King of the Wood by Valerie Anand
|King of the Wood by Valerie Anand|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: William Rufus, King of England and third son of William the Conqueror, died in dubious circumstances. This historical fiction explores one theory about his demise while revealing a fascinating man in fascinating times.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 552||Date: January 2016|
|Publisher: Romaunce Books|
A young William Rufus is brought back to England from clergy training in France by his father William the Conqueror. England has changed and needs a soldier more than a priest or monk, especially as Rufus' brother Richard has died, leaving William to fill the void. Eventually King William I decides to split his inheritance between Rufus and eldest son Robert, something that doesn't go down well with an heir who expected to get it all. The brothers were never friends but this brings a new dimension to their hatred and, when royal brothers fight, nations become involved.
Journalist Valerie Anand (who also writes Tudor crime mysteries as Fiona Buckley by the way) brought the skills from her day job to bear when she researched this book, throwing light onto a king who isn't raised up in historical fiction that often. All I knew of him before this book was that he met his sticky end in a hunting accident but Valerie shows us there's more to him than that, including an interesting spin on the sticky end itself.
Valerie portrays the third son of William I, 'The Conqueror', as someone who battled in one way or another all his life. He wasn't attractive ('Rufus' being a nickname derived from his ruddy complexion as much as his hair colour) and a stammer ensured he was less than popular as a child.
His eldest brother Robert Curthose (Curthose on account of his short stature – the Normans didn't go in for political correctness!) had a huge sense of entitlement which suffered a degree of bashing with William I's split will. Not that Robert was an ideal son anyway. Exhibit One: he fought his father for Rouen Castle in a battle sense – horses, swords, fatalities the lot. This combative nature which seemed to run down the male line meant Rufus was at odds with him all his life, leaving little brother Henry to decide which brother to side with.
Valerie also develops a theory (given substance by a contemporaneous letter) as to why Rufus didn't get married or have children: he was gay.
The author treats the whole idea with sensitivity, looking at it from both sides of the coin. Not only do we see Rufus coming to terms with the fact that he's not drawn to women, we hear what it's like to be the King's male lover. This was a precarious position in a time when the church is power and the act of single gender love a mortal sin, not to mention a downer on the heir-and-a-spare child marriage bed expectation. Then there's the King's temperament to weather.
Talking of the church, religion is one of the great dividers defining the picture that Valerie paints. While the church is dominant, the New Forest country folk believe in Herne the Hunter and partake in festivals during which all inhibition is hurled aside. (Again tastefully rather than graphically described.)
Valerie's style is densely packed which I love but may not appeal to those who enjoy a lighter historical fiction read. She ensures we receive a panoramic view from both sides of the Channel as well as the England/Scotland border. In the end the memory that will linger is one from England: a capricious, unpopular monarch who went his own way, feeding his appetites rather than the nation's good. Indeed history judges him harshly but William Rufus wasn't the first or the worst, although, in the hands of Valerie Anand, he's definitely one of the most interesting.
(Thank you to Romaunce Books for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you'd like more historical fiction about William the Conqueror, his origins and his family, we also heartily recommend David Churchill's Leopards of Normandy series starting with Devil.
You can read more book reviews or buy King of the Wood by Valerie Anand at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy King of the Wood by Valerie Anand at Amazon.com.
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