Dear Ms. Kennedy:
Your book came to my attention due to mentions by author Courtney Milan on Twitter. As Ms. Milan had recommended a previous book to me that I enjoyed quite a bit, I thought I would give your story a try. It helped, too, that SuperLibrarian blogged favorably about the book as well. And finally, even though you sent me an arc, I actually bought the book for $2.38 at BooksonBoard (PDF ARCs don’t always translate well to the reader thus my eventual purchase of "keeper" books) and it was $2.38. I felt like it was a crime not to purchase the story.
The Conqueror is a medieval set in England in 1152. Guinevere de l’Ami is the Countess of Everoot, a wealthy manse in the North. Her father passed away two weeks prior and Gwyn is attempting to avoid being married off to her neighbor, Marcus fitzMiles. She seeks the protection of King Stephen but Stephen is distracted by the rumors of war led by Henry II. Gwyn finds herself alone on a highway having tried to escape Marcus and a dark knight rides to her rescue. Griffyn ‘Pagan’ Sauvage has been wending his way through England, turning barons and landowners and knights to the cause of Henry II. His fealty isn’t just to Henry. Griffyn’s real purpose is to reacquire his home, Everoot.
Gwyn and Griffyn’s fathers fought in the Crusades. After the two fathers returned, their lives and their families’ lives began to unravel. Gwyn’s brother died and then her mother, and her father couldn’t stop hating her for it. Griffyn’s father became encorseled by the treasure purportedly brought back from the Crusades, ravaging the countryside in search of more treasure. In some strange doings, Gwyn’s father stole Everoot from Griffyn’s father, displacing Griffyn from his home and leaving behind a burning for vengeance.
Gwyn and Griffyn’s identities are hidden from each other initially. Griffyn is in the country secretly and Gwyn has some sense of preservation that keeps her from revealing that she is but a mere maid of no importance.
Gwyn’s goal is to hold Everoot for for the de l’Ami line and for King Stephen. Gwyn takes her oaths of fealty seriously even in the face of her growing love for Griffyn. The reason for Gwyn’s need to hold her oaths become more clear as the story unwinds. Gwyn believes herself in need of redemption and to break her oaths, particularly those to King Stephen, despite his lack of care for her, is part of that redemptive path.
Henry is history’s winner and it’s clear that Griffyn’s goals of reclamation and vengeance are aided by King Stephen’s ineffectual defense of his crown. When Everoot falls back into Griffyn’s hands, he must deal with what he perceives to be betrayal by Gwyn and the internal struggle to become equally and grotesquely entranced by the Treasure. But Gwyn becomes immeasurably important to him:
Griffyn spoke from where he sat in the dark corner of the room, but he felt light, buoyant, snared. The image of this woman walking on a deserted battlement, dark hair flying, as lightning streaked across the sky, was simply too beguiling. She had passed her breath over the room and it was transformed. He didn’t know it was dark, he didn’t know he was captured. He only knew her.
I really appreciated that Gwyn was the oath holder and wanted a little more respect by the other characters, particularly the men who were oathbreakers, for her position. Wendy mentioned in her review that she felt like readers might get annoyed with Gwyn hewing to her oaths. I wanted you to give us more reasons, more acknowledgment why that was quite honorable when, as Wendy noted, honor and duty and oaths meant everything. Truly, Griffyn’s response to her when she questions him about the importance of the oath, is offputting “I would have done what I wanted.”
Gwyn’s predilection for getting herself into danger could be read as humorous or irritating. (I found it humorous). A core part of the story I found a little tiresome. It would have been nice to have a medieval Crusade linked story that had no reference to mystical treasure. I found this to be the weakest part of this fresh medieval.
Further, when Griffyn retook Everoot, I wanted to see Gwyn show more spine in defense of her physical attraction. While she was strong in some aspects (holding her oaths), she was remarkably weak willed in others. I would have liked to have seen her make it slightly more difficult; show something more than irritation particularly when everyone in the keep was abandoning allegiance to her for Griffyn (although the reverse has always been the case in Garwood medievals so perhaps I am being unfair here); particularly when Griffyn seemed dismissive of her fealty.
There are few medievals on the market today and this one does contain the pageantry and historical affect of good medievals. Gwyn and Griffyn are very likeable characters and you truly root for them to be together. And at $2.38, it’s worth every penny. (Even at the paperback price of $3.99, it would be worth it). B-