I picked up this book not long after finishing Hollick's "Forever Queen," the first in this Saxon Series. Having read very little about England's pre-Conquest history, I did enjoy learning about this time period, and the portions that I looked up to delve deeper into did show that the book is written about as accurately as anything about that time can be at this point.
As with the first book, I felt that too much time was spent on details and events that did not seem to add to much to moving the story along. Though I enjoy epic novels, I do not so much like drudging through unnecessary side plots. I assume that Hollick was attempting to give a broad picture of the political maneuvering and historical backstory, but sometimes there was just too much. For example, the descriptions of Godwine's exile, Harold's time in Normandy, and Edward the Exile's decision to come to England all seemed to have little to add to the overall story.
That being said, I did greatly enjoy this book. Having only basic knowledge of the events of 1066, I was enthralled with the people and events that led to the Battle of Hastings. All of the what-if's and if-only's are expertly taken advantage of in Hollick's writing to keep the reader on the edge of their seat, even knowing that Harold's demise is eminent. Since I did not previously know much about Harold, I do not know if his characterization is accurate, but it seems unlikely that he was as smart, caring, personable, and all-around wonderful as he is painted in this narrative. About the only dislikable thing about him is his apparent love for two women at the same time which is explained away as being necessary for his status (explained a few too many times as we are constantly reminded that he will eventually have to take a "real" wife).
William of Normandy, on the other hand, is the evil, selfish, ambitious man that is loved only by his wife, and only by her because her other choice is a miserable life and marriage. The stereotypical good versus evil of Harold and William was a little over the top, which was a shame since the historical facts were so well presented, a more balanced and realistic personification of these two men would have been nice.
The way this was written and the turn of events reminded me of the many Ricardian slanted novels that I have read about Richard III. Both the last Saxon king and last Plantagenet king were killed by usurpers with little claim to the throne, and many authors would have us believe that these doomed kings would have been England's greatest blessing had they reigned for more time. Whether it was actually true of either Harold or Richard, I suppose we can only conjecture.
Overall, I found this a very worthwhile read that has opened me to another very interesting part of history. I would definitely recommend this and "Forever Queen" to any fan of English historical fiction.