1066, the year Duke William of Normandy became famed as a conqueror.
The Battle of Hastings is one of the great foundation stones of English history.
But another battle took place that year.
One that, though not as well remembered, was equally instrumental in sealing English fate.
It has its own heroes and champions, most of which are forgotten from your school textbook.
This is the story of Stamford Bridge, of everyday men and women and their climactic role in the end of an era.
The Last Viking is the second of two historical fiction novels written by English writer, Berwick Coates on the autumn events of 1066.
Since his school days at Kingston Grammar School, Coates has worn a number of job titles including: Army officer, artist, lecturer, games coach, and teacher of History, English, Latin, General Studies, and Swahili.
He currently works as a school archivist in the West country and has nine works of non-fiction also to his name.
His first venture into historical fiction, The Last Conquest (April 2013), concentrates solely on the more famous Battle of Hastings; whilst The Last Viking begins with the later political events of 1065 and goes onto focus on the build-up through the spring and summer of 1066.
They can be read independently of each other, featuring a different set of third person narratives in each.
I enjoyed the writing style which focused on the ranging view points of up to twenty key characters and whilst there are only ten chapters, each is broken up into many sections.
This helped keep the story moving and made the events seem more real and personal as they unfolded – even if from the history books you knew the end result.
Personally, I liked this novel’s focus on Harold Godwinson. Apart from his infamous fate, I previously knew very little about his life or family and I certainly wasn’t aware of how prominent his siblings were in the leading political events.
And that leads me to the main selling point of this novel: historical detail.
If, as a reader you go into this book expecting gore and sumptuously detailed battle scenes then, you will walk away disappointed.
That’s not what this book is about and it’s, therefore, probably not a book for you.
Whilst 1066 is famed for its Battle between William and Harold, the rest of the story can often be swept under the carpet in its wake.
What I believe Coates was trying to do with The Last Viking is give the forgotten cast a voice once again in their own story.
The heroes of Scarborough who dared to challenge a Viking King; the men who died on the beaches trying to bide time for their friends to board the ships; the boy Earl who teetered on the brink of ruin. So many seem lost in a conqueror’s shadow.
Yes at a few points the speech is a bit stilted and the expressions anachronistic (the Tostig “Where’s Wally?” I found also went on a paragraph or so too many) but generally the story showed great heart and was enjoyable to read.
It’s certainly not Bernard Cornwell, but by no means do I think it’s trying to be.
Overall, it’s an thoughtful novel which generally flowed well, providing enormous historical insight and no small amount of entertainment.
Published in April 2014 by Simon & Schuster UK, the hardcover edition of The Last Viking retails at £16.99. The novel is also available in paperback, from £7.99.
Also published by Simon & Schuster UK, paperback copies of The Last Conquest retail at £7.99.