Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007, 232 p.
The last in Massie’s Dark Ages trilogy, this is mainly the life story of Roland, nephew of Charlemagne. As in previous instalments we have the interjections and admonitions of the putative narrator, Michael Scott, to his princely charge (the later Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.) Much less here is made of Scott’s upbringing in the Scottish Border country though there are “editorial” footnotes from Massie himself noting similarities between incidents in Michael Scott’s tale and those of his later compatriot and surnamesake Sir Walter. (The trilogy is meant to be a “found” manuscript which “Massie” has translated from Latin.) Still present, too, are “Scott”’s digressions – at one point a character visits Byzantium, others travel as far as Ethiopia (to collect Roland’s lost wits!) before returning to the German wood where they left him – but the narrative thrust doesn’t falter. The machinations and instabilities of a Dark Ages court are well illustrated.
Since there are precious few historical sources to rely on a novelist has pretty much free reign in describing the times in which the book is set. It will not have been exactly like this but in Charlemagne and Roland Massie has produced as convincing an account as we are likely to get.