High up in the hills of the Peloponnese lives an old man from a distant land, who in his youth was a soldier in the pay of the Byzantine emperor. When it is time for the emperor’s son to begin getting ready to replace his father, the emperor tells him to search out this old warrior because he is wise and has a very wise story to share. This soldier’s name is Godwin of Ely, who recounts the tale of Hereward of Bourne, more famously known through legend as Hereward the Wake, the last saxon hero of England.
It begins in Hereward’s home village of Bourne in Lincolnshire, where we learn of Hereward’s troubled youth which led to him being made an outlaw. And yet, it is only once he is outlawed does Hereward learn of his purpose in life, as little by little his destiny is revealed to him.
As the story progresses and Hereward gets married, starts a family, and finds friends who are willing to help him in his quest as he travels around all the royal courts of Europe, we are given glimpses of how the threads of history will converge.
I found parts of this book a little hard going, especially in the middle where the pace seemed to slow. That being said, after Hereward and his entourage return from travelling across Europe the story picked up again, as did the pace. The characters were interesting, both the representations of historical figures, such as Harold Godwinson and William the Bastard, as well as the fictional ones. The descriptions of the places visited throughout the story were detailed and helped to bring the time and locations to life.
The author provides a good number of pages of historical information at the back of the book, including maps and genealogies which themselves are interesting and help to give context to the story.
Conquest is a very interesting read, one I recommend to those who enjoy their historical fiction set at the end of Saxon England and the beginning of the Norman period.