by Stewart Binns
Reviewed by Annis
Conquest is set around a pivotal historic period culminating in 1066 with the Battle of Hastings. Three powerful leaders will pit themselves against each other in a bloody contest to the death: Harold Godwinsson, King of England; Harald Hardrada, King of Norway; and William, Duke of Normandy. The prize, England. The winner, William.
After the battle is won, the English continue struggling to overthrow William’s rule. A legend arises of a wily English freedom-fighter whose ongoing resistance to the rapacious Norman conquerors makes him a folk-hero and symbol of stubbornly independent English spirit. That man is Hereward of Bourne, a warrior mercenary known now as Hereward the Wake, but in his own lifetime as Hereward the Outlaw or Hereward the Exile. Fact and fantasy tangle inextricably even in contemporary chronicles of Hereward’s exploits, making him the perfect subject for a historical adventure with a touch of fantasy.
A bold youth of striking looks and powerful build, Hereward is a thegn’s son who grows up roaming the woods and marshy fens of his father’s lands in Lincolnshire. Like many eleventh-century Englishmen, he is of mixed Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian blood. Disruptive, wild and hot-headed, Hereward is a born rebel. In 1053 King Edward the Confessor banishes him from England. The eighteen-year-old exile's travels take him full circle throughout the known world in search of his destiny, following a mysterious talisman of power and its guide, the wise and beautiful Torfida.
The story opens with an elderly Hereward recalling the events of his youth, which are then narrated in a measured pace and a mannered third-person prose style, at times giving Conquest the formal air of a chivalric romance. Not all readers will appreciate the effect, which tends to distance the reader from the story. Hereward assumes the role of the archetypical knight-errant, illuminating through his colourful adventures a dramatic and portentous period of medieval history. (2011; 528 pages, including a Postscript with further historical information, genealogical charts and maps.)
More about Conquest at Powell's Books or Amazon.com
Other novels featuring Hereward the Wake:
Hereward, the Last of the English by Charles Kingsley (1866), the Victorian novel that resurrected Hereward's forgotten story. More info at Powell's Books or read free online at Project Gutenberg
The Legend of Hereward by Mike Ripley (2007), a novel narrated by medieval scholars exploring a more brutal reality behind Hereward's heroic legend. More info
Man With a Sword by Henry Treece (1962), for children. More info
Nonfiction about Hereward and the Saxon resistance:
The English Resistance: The Underground War against the Normans by Peter Rex (2004). More info
Hereward by Victor Head (1998). More info
Hereward of the Fens by Trevor A. Bevis (1998). More info
Hereward the Wake, a modern English translation of the Latin chronicle Gesta Herewardi (The Exploits of Hereward) written by a twelfth-century monk.
The Flashing Sword of Hereward the Wake, an article by Joseph A. McCullough about Hereward as a sword-and-sorcery hero, at the Black Gate website
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