Book Review: Conscience of the King by Alfred Duggan

Conscience of the King is set between the years 451 and 534, during the Dark Ages, and follows the life of Cerdic Elesing, the founder of the Kingdom of Wessex.  It is a complicated time, one full of danger.  Much of Britain is suffering at the hands of raiders, and small, independent, fortified towns make up much of the land.

Coroticus is the third son of the ruler of the town-fortress of Anderida, one of these small, independent towns, who has ambitions of one day turning Anderida into a Kingdom.  His eldest brother, Constans is heir to the estate.  Paul, the second son, will be Bishop of Noviomagus when he is old enough.  And Coroticus…is often reminded that there is no place for him in his father’s plans for the future.

However, Coroticus doesn’t see things the same way as the rest of his family.  He longs for the day when he is independent.  So he bides his time.  Although many obstacles cross his path, he is clever and cunning, and on the rare occasions when good fortune makes an appearance in his life he is sure to make the most of it.

Political intrigue, murder, ambition, decisive action, plotting…they can all be found in Conscience of the King, the story that brings to life the journey Coroticus made to ensure his dream of independence became reality.  All he needed to do was change his name, found a kingdom and become a king.

Prior to reading Conscience of the King, I had not come across any of Alfred Duggan’s books.  But his accessible style of writing historical fiction is amazing.  His narrative is full to bursting with facts and details, and when I realised that the book was first published in the 1950’s I was astounded, for it read more like a book published much more recently.

Alfred Duggan weaves a clever, intriguing story, bringing Dark Age Britain to life with vivid descriptions and colourful accounts of the people and places that Cerdic, who Coroticus becomes, encounters.  You are not meant to like Cerdic.  He is a terrible person, who writes so matter-of-factly about doing so many wicked things.  And yet you almost find yourself hoping that he manages to make a go of it.

I believe those that enjoy good historical fiction would find Conscience of the King an entertaining read.

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