Review: Triumph and Catastrophe (The Lost King, #2) by Martin Lake


The year is 1069. The Norman invaders are stealing the land of the English people, building castles to subdue them and relentlessly making a once free people into serfs. But the English will not submit. Armed resistance flares across the land. Yet, to become effective, it needs a leader who can unite the nation.

That leader is Edgar Atheling, heir of Alfred the Great, a young man born to be king.

Edgar knows he must defeat William the Conqueror, a ruthless leader and formidable foe. But can a 17 year old boy with an ill-equipped army challenge the Conqueror for his birthright, the throne of England? Edgar’s one hope of victory is to forge an alliance with England’s ancient Viking enemies and pray that the rest of his people rise up in support.

My Review

Edgar Aetheling was one of the great “what-ifs” in Anglo-Saxon history. If he had been a little older in 1066—well, more than a little—if he had a following, if he could have convinced the Witan to vote for him, would Duke William still have invaded England? After reading this book, part two of The Lost King series, one might think the answer is yes. Although King William (by now, we’re three years into his reign) takes Edgar seriously enough to want to get his hands on him, he seems to view the Aetheling more as a nuisance than a threat. William certainly doesn’t seem to show any regrets, though Edgar tries valiantly to shame him when he temporarily capitulates:

‘Welcome, Edgar son of Agatha,’ he said. I gasped. Son of Agatha. In three words he denied me both my birthright and my manhood. No mention of a title. No mention of my father. Merely the shame of naming me the son of my mother. My mind raced to find any response. A little voice spoke in my head, whispering a reply. I forced my mouth open. ‘Good day to you, William son of Herleve.’ A shudder ran round the assembled knights. Naming him after his mother was a worse insult. Worse, far worse. For William’s mother was a tanner’s daughter and he had been born out of wedlock. A thousand eyes slid towards him. His face registered nothing, did not move in the slightest. But the orb in his left hand shook and his fingers were forced to clutch hard to keep his grip. ‘Touché,’ he said, coldly.

On the other hand, the Normans do seem to go to a lot of effort to chase him down, though perhaps he just keeps bumping into them (and taking a beating). Undoubtedly, the Northumbrians pay a high price for their resistance to the Normans, though it is uncertain whether Edgar’s presence has all that much to do with it. He believes he bears the responsibility, which reveals his noble side. At the same time, some of his allies prove far from reliable, implying that it takes more than royal blood to command loyalty. And to many, he’s still an untried boy, though he is learning courage and even audacity. However, there are others who risk their lives to stand with the fledgling “king”; after all, he is their only hope. It’s an interesting game of cat-and-mouse—or rather wolf, as Edgar’s lady said: “The Norman wolf does not nourish. It hunts and savages and kills.” In this cruel world, savagery and ferocity wins, and poor Edgar possesses none of that. This book is a very good read, and kept my attention throughout.

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