It is refreshing to read a description of the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings that does not depict Harold Godwinson as an untarnished hero. Yes, we all love the underdog, the brave man who faces off with the evil conquering bastard and pays the ultimate prize for doing so, but Harold was a man, not a saint.
Ms Rochelle uses various viewpoint characters to guide us through the years 1064 to 1066. Other than Harold, Tostig Godwinson and other various members of the Godwin clan give us their respective takes on the events. Tostig feels betrayed by his brother. Editha Godwinsdaughter, Edward the Confessor’s queen, sides with Tostig. When Edward dies, Harold feels he deserves the crown, never mind that there is a legitimate heir in Edgar the Aetheling. This Harold has his eye on the endgame, plans his moves well in advance. All in all, Ms Rochelle presents us with a very human Harold—flawed as most of us are but capable of rising to the occasion as few of us can. Is he heroic? Undoubtedly. White as driven snow? No.
Fatal Rivalry is an enjoyable and interesting read. Ms Rochelle’s knowledge of the period and the setting is evident throughout, albeit that the narrative includes the much disputed “arrow in the eye”. All in all, Fatal Rivalry is a gripping read.