Morgan Llywelyn,
The Wind from Hastings
(1978; Tor, 1998)

Raised in the lush landscape of East Anglia, the daughter of an earl and descended from the beautiful -- if immodest -- Lady Godiva, the young Edyth has no dreams of a noble groom. She longs to preserve her life exactly as it is, until her Saxon father Aelfgar is outlawed by King Edward's Danish-run council, and her life begins to change with great rapidity.

After taking sanctuary in Ireland, Aelfgar manages to find suitable allies and regain his title. In the process, Edyth is betrothed to the chiefest ally, Griffith, prince of Wales. Despite numerous misgivings, Edyth -- soon going by her Welsh name, Aldith -- learns to admire her new Celtic countrymen and, indeed, to love her husband. For several years she is content to raise children (three) and give only minor worries to Griffith's continuing struggle against the Saxon throne. But eventually it catches up to them; their home is burned, their allies dissolve away and, soon enough, Griffith himself is captured and killed by the Saxons in Harold Godwine's name.

Godwine is soon to become England's King Harold, and he solidifies his influence by marrying Griffith's distraught widow. She certainly does not love him -- only fear for the safety of her children by Griffith convinces her to mouth the necessary words at the wedding -- but she does gradually come to respect him, his leadership and his dream of a united England.

But then Harald Hardraada of Norway invades England. And William the Bastard (a.k.a. "the Conqueror") of Normandy pushes his claim for the throne....

In many of her books, Morgan Llywelyn touches history and the legendary figures who strode across the Celtic and British landscapes, illuminating those figures in such a way to give them very real, though no less heroic, profiles. The Wind from Hastings is no exception; by focusing on Aldith, who lived through great changes in British leadership, Llywelyn manages to tie together a major span of history in a tight, tidy package.

Many historians and historical novelists prefer to cast their light on the heroes, the movers and shakers of the era, and indeed, history is often measured in terms of kings and battles. But Llywelyn's choice of the twice-queen Aldith as her protagonist is a good one; her character development is excellent and her perspective on 11th-century England is insightful.

There aren't a lot of surprising plot twists here; after all, the history of Harold's conquest of Wales and William's conquest of England is well known. But this intensely personal account of small matters and great events of the day brings that history to life in a vivid, breathing account which is, at times, heartbreaking. By giving readers one woman's perspective on more than one side of the ongoing struggles for power, Llywelyn demonstrates handily that there isn't always a "bad guy" in the tale. Sometimes, the identities of hero and villain differ depending on one's point of view.

If you want all the facts about the events preceding and leading up to the Norman invasion of 1066, check out a book of English history from your local library. But if you want that history to come alive for you, if you want to know what those great changes might have meant to the people who lived through them, find a copy of The Wind from Hastings.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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