104. Conquest: Daughter of the Last King by Tracey Warr

1093. The three sons of William the Conqueror Robert Duke of Normandy, William II King of England and Count Henry fight with each other for control of the Anglo-Norman kingdom created by their father s conquest. Meanwhile, Nest ferch Rhys, the daughter of the last independent Welsh king, is captured during the Norman assault of her lands. Raised with her captors, the powerful Montgommery family, Nest is educated to be the wife of Arnulf of Montgommery, in spite of her pre-existing betrothal to a Welsh prince. Who will Nest marry and can the Welsh rebels oust the Normans? 'Daughter of the Last King' is the first in the Conquest Trilogy.

Although I have always known the basics of the Norman invasion of Britain, I did not know the extend of which the Normans tried to take over Wales. I vaguely knew the name Nest ferch Rhys, not from history lessons in school, but rather from my constant googling after reading more fiction during this time. I was very kindly sent a copy of Conquest by Impress Books in exchange for an honest review, which I will gladly provide!

Tracey Warr certainly provides a dramatic history of this period, from the very first moment you begin in Chapter One. All of the characters are fleshed out thoroughly, even those you only encounter briefly. They remain with you throughout the course of the novel, especially Nest's family I felt. It gave her a very relatable  dimension - a royal hostage within the Norman court, squirrelled away within a Norman family to train her in the new ways, for future Norman gains. You are immediately hanging on every page, desperate to discover where Nest's plight will next take her. 

Watching over Nest is Sybil de Montgommery, part of the prominent Montgommery family, whom Nest comes to care for, despite the circumstances of her capture. Sybil's husband FitzHammon plays a significant role throughout the vein of the story, as does Sybil's brother Arnulf. Nest must find her footing a her new environment, which is traumatic enough when you consider that under her father's rule there had been many years of peace. Upon Nest's father's death, her whole world and future is plunged into uncertainty. She has to rely on her wits and intelligence to navigate through the dangerous world she now finds herself in. 

The backdrop of Nest's new world is one of turmoil, as the sons of William the Conqueror fight amongst themselves for power. The Wheel of Fortune always features within historical fiction, and Conquest is no different, perfectly showing how the Montgommery family reach to far on their rise to power, and ultimately lose their grasp of power while Nest ascends to the court of King Henry I. I'll leave the reader to come to their own opinion of Henry I, for I still cannot make up my mind if I loathe him, or can accept him as he is. 

Warr is an engaging writer, and I very much enjoyed the tale she wove over the course of the book. She is artful at playing the reader's heartstrings, especially when you believe that Nest is at last going to achieve happiness and control over her own life. Warr dangles this tidbit enticingly before you and at the very last moment snatches it away in the only way a complete curveball can. 

There were parts of the book I could have done without, namely the parts of correspondence between Haith and his sister Benedictina. While I understand that they serve to provide insight and background information that Nest would not be aware of, and help to move the story along I did not find I made a connection to either of the two characters and was desperate to get through their parts to find out what was happening with Nest, although this is my personal preference and you may well enjoy their interludes. 

I would highly recommend Conquest to those of you who have enjoyed Joanna Courtney's 'Queens of Conquest' series (which I have also reviewed), as this is definitely along the same vein as her work, which I also very much enjoyed. Well written and researched, you will find as I did that I could not put this book down from the moment I started it. I practically inhaled the content and finished the book within 2 days, which is always a good sign. I am now hungry to continue the world Warr has created, and hope to read more about Nest, as after a spree of googling I see her story does not quite end where the book does!

Rating: 5/5

Find out more about Tracey Warr here and here
Purchase Conquest here
Twitter: @ImpressBooks1 + @TraceyWarr1

Have you read Conquest? If so what did you think? Do you have any new medieval historical fiction you could recommend - comment below if so, I'd love to read your suggestions!

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103. Fifteen Words by Monika Jephcott Thomas

Two young doctors form a profound and loving bond in Nazi Germany; a bond that will stretch them to the very limits of human endurance. Catholic Max - whose religious and moral beliefs are in conflict, has been been conscripted to join the war effort as a medic, despite his hatred of Hitler's regime. His beloved Erika, a privileged young woman, is herself a product of the Hitler Youth. In spite of their stark differences, Max and Erika defy convention and marry. But when Max is stationed at the fortress city of Breslau, their worst nightmares are realised; his hospital is bombed, he is captured by the Soviet Army and taken to a POW camp in Siberia. Max experiences untold horrors, his one comfort the letters he is allowed to send home: messages that can only contain Fifteen Words. Back in Germany, Erika is struggling to survive and protect their young daughter, finding comfort in the arms of a local carpenter. Worlds apart and with only sparse words for comfort, will they ever find their way back to one another, and will Germany ever find peace?

Fifteen Words is a vivid and intimate portrayal of human love and perseverance, one which illuminates the German experience of the war, which has often been overshadowed by history. 

While quite outside of the time period I like to read about within the Historical Fiction genre, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by Fifteen Words. 

Taken from the perspective of ordinary Germans fighting during WW2, it follows their different paths, struggles and trials as they come to terms with how differently their lives have become. Much like Das Boot, Fifteen Words shows the reader that not all Germans were hard line Nazis, most were just ordinary folk caught up in the ideal of 'making Germany great again'. Max and Erika meet while training to become doctors, and are very different creatures, starting at their upbringing and I have to admit, I preferred Max over Erika. She just wasn't likeable to me, and I struggled to reconcile a lot of the decisions she made throughout the story. I find that that is the danger of flipping between two different POVs, there is always one character you connect more with, who you root for more. This may have been deliberate on Thomas's part however, given the background she created for Ericka. 

The book starts very much in the thick of things, and certainly helps to set the scene and pace for the rest of the book. The harsh brutality of war is clear, especially after Max's unit's capture and the weaker patients are picked off one by one for slowing down the march. It seems unthinkable that such a lack of compassion and callous behaviour can be carried out without batting an eyelid, but then I remind myself how different the circumstances are under war. 

Thomas paints a very realistic picture, and has great skill in helping the reader to understand how both Max and Erika fall prey to temptation, as so many other did during the tumultuous war years. While Max is captured by the Soviets and serves time in a POW camp, Erika remains in Germany, and witnesses the fall of the Reich as the allies take hold of Hitler's Motherland. 

In this instance I don't want to go too deeply into the story-line, less I ruin the twist towards the end for anyone who goes on to read it. However, I what I will say is that Thomas artfully shows how the trauma of war can change two people very much, and how deeply the scars are left. She captures perfectly Max's confusion at being free, and back in the civilian world, and how it is so very, very alien to him after all his experiences. It is not a long read, and well worth the time if you enjoy this particular era of history. 

I particularly enjoyed how the choice of a specific 15 words ring through the core of the story, and ultimately determine the results, whether the characters intended them to or not. 

Rating: 4/5

You can purchase Fifteen words here

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