Review: In The Shadows Of Castles – G.K. Holloway

My version: Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction, Post-1066
Silverwood Books
First published: 2022
ISBN: 978-1-78132-869-9
Pages: 428
Sent by author.

Reviewed in return for an honest review. This is it, honest.

It’s the 1060s, and William of Normandy is estabishing a new and brutal regime in England, but there are those who would defy him. As Norman soldiers spread like a plague across the land, resistance builds, but will it be enough to topple William and restore the rightful king to his throne? The English have the courage to fight, but the Normans, already victorious at Hastings, now build castles seeking to secure their tenuous foothold in these lands.
And what of the people caught up in these catastrophic events? Dispossessed but not defeated, their lives ripped apart, the English struggle for freedom from tyranny; amongst them, caught up in the turmoil, are a soldier, a thane and two sisters. As events unfold, their destinies become intertwined, bringing drastic changes that alter their lives forever.
Firmly embedded in the history of the Conquest, In The Shadows Of Castles, is ultimately a story of love, hope and survival in a time of war.

I hadn’t thought there would or could be a follow up to such an awe-inspiring book asG.K. Holloway’s 1066 What Fates Impose, the very nearly official story of the events leading to and the Battle of Hastings. Fates aptly details how1066 was, of course, all about that era-defining, cataclysmic loss – if you were English. But, what happened after that astonishing, unthinkable defeat?

So, In The Shadows Of Castles, has a very tough act to follow on the Earth-shattering-events-front in that respect. Through its opening chapters, the overwhelming feeling I picked up, is that both sides are stunned by what happened at the battle at the hoary apple tree . The English by their defeat; the Normans – and especially king William – by their victory. The English didn’t think they would lose, the Normans for all their later arrogance, weren’t really sure they were going to win. William certainly doesn’t subsequently really seem to think winning the rest of England would fall easily into his hands. He’s hoping that the rest of England – or the many, many who weren’t at Hastings – will now bow down to their rightful king, having rid himself of the userper, Harold. And the English stunned/staggered by their loss, do seem to have given up. Or have they?

Fates of course was all about the circumstances around and leading up to the big three battles. Fulford, Stamford Bridge and the big one, the one that settled and sealed the fate of the English forever, Hastings.
With Shadows, G.K.’s story is all about scuttling and hiding and conspiring in corners with allies who might know other allies, with interested parties in places as far from where William is as possible. Against the backdrop of many skirmishes and minor battles, but heralding perhaps greater devastation for the English, as William completes his stranglehold on the kingdom, than ever there was at Hastings. William ruthlessly sets about putting down the popular uprisings occurring in late 1069 and early 1070, and culminates his efforts, in the devastating of large parts of northern England in what we professional Historians are calling The Harrying of the North.

As you can see from those dates, while William was crowned as king on Christmas Day 1066, there were still rebellions and resistance and very serious threats to William’s kingship three and four years aftr he became king in southern England. Remember too, that the forces deciding the fate of England were only around 20,000, to 25,000, split roughly equally. William won the battle and won England by killing one man, England’s king. So, with the population of England in 1066, estimated at around 2, to 2.5 million, there were many, many English people who weren’t beaten, didn’t know they were beaten and had no intention of being beaten. Some of the rest of England had either pro-actively given up, or grudgingly acknowleged William, or were set on gathering their forces, from wherever they could find them, and starting a rebellion. In The Shadows Of Castles is interested in the ordinary people, the survivors and heroes of Hastings, the people with most to lose, and the many potential leaders of a ‘new’ England they hope will see William scurrying back on his boats to Normandy.

What Fates Decide – The background and preparation for Hastings

As the title of the book suggests, the Normans slowly strangled any thought of rebellion amongst the English, building stark, stone monuments to their domination everywhere they went. G.K. has deftly intertwined the themes and some of the (still living) characters from the first book, while broadening the story of 1066 out to take in the whole of England, and up to Scotland, as the rebels try whatever they can, to win their country back. The storytelling is once again so vivid and involving that you hope and almost believe that one of the arrows fired by the gallant Englishmen and women might actually hit William and change the course of history. It’s sometimes quite a shock to emerge from its pages and realise that the English didn’t eventually see the Normans off.

There’s intrigue a-plenty (and quite probably some out-trigue as well) and Castles’ Normans are most definitely not the lovable rogues of tv’s Robin Hood, et al. These Normans leave the bodies of the English dead, including some of Harold’s brothers and his housecarls, on the battlefield, think nothing of rape and pillage and clearing villages, hamlets and towns by killing or enslaving and selling off its inhabitants, then burning the places to the ground and sowing salt in the fields, so there can be no living inhabitents to resist their rule – nor will there be for a generation or two. William, for me, is here rather an insequre man. OK, everyone who matters assures him he has God on his side, but is he convinced? Not yet he isn’t. As I say, he isn’t interested in winning over the English with his benevolence, he wants power, he wants an iron grip on the land and he wants it now. The English are freedom fighters, and are an intreguing bunch. Many different pasts coming together with one love for the land of their birth. There really is so much to recomment in this book, I could probably go on for pages. But I’ll stop now and let you get off and buy Castles. And if you haven’t already, read Fates first. I guarantee you will be surprised England lost.

Historical Fiction writing of the absolute highest quality and an absorbing read, written by an author who clearly thoroughly understands the period, the hopes and desires that were only partially diminished after Hastings, and are here threatened with total annihilation by an all-conquering, insecure, despotic new tyrant calling himself King.

You can buy In The Shadows Of Castles from Amazon

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