An eye-catching cover introduces the story of Harald, who is remembered in British history for the battle of Stamford Bridge where he lost his life, but was instrumental in bringing down the other Harold, as he had to march to Hastings after the battle and was killed.
The story is told in dry prose in the style of the sagas of the Vikings, and does portray Harald as a man hardened by fighting, gaining a reputation as a warrior, always moving to fight another battle. As a boy he fights for his half brother Olaf, King of Norway, a Christian king who battled hard to control his people and the religion he followed. Olaf is killed and Harald is wounded, rescued and travels to tell Olaf’s son Magnus of his father’s fate. He travels across Sweden to Novgorod in the land of the Rus, ending up serving the Grand Prince Yaroslav and fighting for him. He travels from there after a while and serves the Empress in Constantinople, fighting with the Varangian Guard. But Magnus has grown and Harald fights him, and then invades England, meeting his fate at Stamford Bridge.
Henry Treece wrote a novel called The Last of the Vikings (Brockhampton 1964) which tells this story, again as a Viking Saga, but in beautiful prose and giving the reader a real sense of the ethos and life of the Vikings. Thomas Williams’ story has some of the feel of a saga but without the breadth and feel of what it was like to be a Viking warrior.
The illustrations are very reminiscent of Charles Keeping’s dark brooding illustrations and the details of the artefacts are interesting to read. It may be that this book would be best read aloud, but there are so many names of men and places that most readers will find the story difficult to digest.