Review: Spear Havoc – C.R. May

1066 Alternative Histories

My version: Hardback
Genre: Historical Fiction, USA, JFK, RFK
Orion Books
First published: 2019
ISBN: 978-1-4091-8778-3
Pages: 390
, signed

From the cover:
The year 1066 is arguably the most famous in British history.
Assailed on all sides, King Harold and his doughty army finally fail to a last gasp Normal assault.
It is perhaps the very fist of these fights against the odds which have entered the national psyche, of which Agincourt, Rorke’s Drift and Dunkirk are but a few.
But what if Harold Godwinson had prevailed on that blood soaked ridge ? or the invasions of Harald of Norway and William of Normandy had never taken place at all?
Here, best-selling author C.R. May presents twelve short stories, each outlining widely differing ways which could easily – and in some cases should have – produced an entirely different timeline, alternative futures which would have had a dramatic effect on the world in which we live today.

An actual panel from the Canterbury Tapestry. Possibly

1066 could all have been so different.

It very nearly was.

And here, in Spear Havoc‘s eleven vividly imagined and perfectly drawn short stories, compelling historical cameos, we can, with C.R. May’s adept help, for a moment at least, see how close it all was – and how it could have been so, so different.

Of course, as time-travel experts like me will immediately point out that, if any of these imagined scenarios had actually happened, I wouldn’t be here telling you about how good this book is, and you wouldn’t be there reading this. But for now, in Spear Havoc we have a series of thoroughly sound and above all plausible what-ifs, that, but for a slightly wrong twist of fate, could so very easily have been what happened (if you subscribe to the infinite universe idea where anything you can imagine happening, that conforms to the rules of physics, can or in this case, did happen). History could have been different.

Spear Havoc is a short story collection, a short idea collection. Based of course on the facts, as we can know them at very nearly 1000 years distance, of what happened in the months before, during and then immediately after the events seven miles north west of Hastings, at the hoary apple tree, by the stream known as Sandlacu, sandy water, on October 14, 1066. Mr May has taken a look at several of the events surrounding the battle and, more precisely, at which point(s) they could have, indeed may have in an alternate universe, taken another direction, Mostly to the benefit of Harold Godwinson of course.

You do need some basic knowledge of the events of October 1066 – as far as we actually know for certain what happened – to use as the mental springboard for these scenarios. Without some sort of basic understanding, the alternative timelines presented here, won’t mean all that much, I guess. Unless they are written by a master storyteller, that is, and fortunately for us, Mr May is just the man for the job.

We don’t know how Harold died. Or indeed if he died at Hastings – for instance. “But he got an arrow in the eye!” You cry. But that is only an interpretation of a panel from the Bayeux Tapestry (which itself should be called The Canterbury Embroidery (see above) anyway). And don’t forget, the Battle of Hastings wasn’t fought at Hastings. There’s a clue in the title, as they say. There is no eyewitness testimony that states “I swear, no loopholes, that I saw Harold fall and die after he got an arrow in the eye.” These were still the days when ‘chronicles’ consisted of “1065. Dreadful things happened.” And that’s it. So of course the field is open for interpretation.

These are stories you might sit and speculate on, if you and your friends, maybe under lockdown, we’re so inclined to sit around speculating on different outcomes for Hastings and 1066 in general. But what if William hadn’t been able to cross the channel when he did, but was delayed and allowed Harold to rest up a few more days, even weeks, and be fully prepared for the battle, instead of pretty much arriving after the game had kicked off? What if he’d been able to have controlled his men who fell for the Norman ‘retreat,’ pursued them and were this killed when the feint turned out to have been a plan? Any one of these scenarios presented here could have happened and would have lead to a different outcome – and would most likely mean I wouldn’t be here now writing this. In English. Cool, eh?

I’ve hinted at it above, that there is a school of thought that as the universe is so big, infinitely big in fact, that anything you can imagine happening – that obeys the laws of physics – does. Somewhere. So, in theory, each and every one of these eleven short stories, does happen. Somewhere. And someone is writing a blog post somewhere, saying “what if William had won?”

All Historical Fiction is ‘what if’? Most books are just longer than the eleven sketches in Spear Havoc, which are the product of an incredibly fertile, learned mind. I shouldn’t be by now, but I seem constantly surprised by C.R.May’s books bursting with compelling characters and ideas.

Spear Havoc is an effervescent outpouring of ideas from a true master of Historical Fiction.

You can buy Spear Havoc from Amazon

Header photo by Adrian Moran on Unsplash

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