In the Shadows of Castles by G K Holloway

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In the Shadows of Castles by G K Holloway

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: September 2022
Publisher: Silverwood Books
ISBN: 978-1800422469

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In the Shadows of Castles is the follow-up novel to What Fates Impose - if you are new to G K Holloway, you might want to read Ani's review before this one. While you could read this second novel as a standalone, it seems a shame to miss the build up to where we begin....

... and we begin after the momentous battle in 1066 and on the day of William of Normandy's coronation as King of England. William's position is not secure and the new king has many challenges. Imposing authority through a coronation is important. And William is right to worry. While the previous king, Harold, is dead and the likelihood of more pitched battles is over, the rebels are stirring and much of the country does not wish to recognise a new overlord.

In the Shadows of Castles follows the journey of two English rebels, Bondi and Whitgar, and two sisters, the daughters of another rebel, Morwenna and Elfwyn. Through these four characters, we find that the English did not give up so easily. Holloway shows us these individual tales of resistance while also narrating the wider political and social upheavals in a real page turning novel steeped in knowledge and detail.

The best historical novels strike a careful balance between accurate historical detail and living, breathing characters who are recognisable to modern readers. People living a thousand years ago didn't just live in a very different world; they had a very different outlook and frame of reference for just about everything. It's hard not to make your characters seem like anachronistic time travellers. G K Holloway doesn't do this and it's one of my favourite things about In the Shadows of Castles. His characters are unmistakable products of their time but still engaging and interesting so that you root for them or hope for their downfall, even though you're likely to know the broader historical outcome. Sisters Morwenna and Elfwyn are given agency but not in an ahistorical way and I loved the way these two women are written. William is presented as a deeply unpleasant man; you won't like him but you will recognise the authoritarianism and bullying that arises from the timeless human sense of insecurity as well as tactical ruthlessness.

The knowledge of the period is impeccable and it's front and centre without ever being didactic, woven into every page. The battle in 1066 was not the end of the transfer of power in England and this book illuminates the remorseless but contested attrition of victory.

If you like history told from the point of view, not of the victor, but of the downtrodden and defeated, In the Shadows of Castles is one for you. It's vivid and energetic, knowledgeable and detailed, and peopled with a rich cast of believable characters, all playing their part in momentous events.


Do make sure to read the first book in this series. For a non-fiction account of this turbulent time, you could try The Norman Conquest by Marc Morris.

Booklists.jpg In the Shadows of Castles by G K Holloway is in the Top Ten Self-Published Books 2023.

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