Conquest: Daughter of the Last King
The latest novel from Tracey Warr is the first book in a trilogy about the aftermath of the Norman Conquest. It focuses on Nest, daughter of Rhys, the last King of Wales. Nest is captured by Norman lords when her father’s castle and lands are seized, and she is raised as a captive by the Montgomery family, who plan to marry her to one of their own and thus legitimize their claim on her father’s land. When asked about her inspiration for the story, Ms Warr, who lived in Wales for a number of years, said:
“I am generally looking for stories about fascinating, little-known, early medieval women, and Nest certainly falls into that category. Conquest was also very much sparked by my travels back and forth by train across the spectacular triple river estuary at Carmarthen Bay, with its string of Norman castles including Llansteffan, Carmarthen, Laugharne and Kidwelly. Looking at the silhouette of Llansteffan at sunset on the headland, I started imagining Nest moving through that landscape. Once I began researching and writing the book, the Normans themselves also became fascinating, especially King Henry I.”
Certainly the Normans do play a part in this book, especially Henry I, who becomes enchanted by Nest and determined to make the young Welsh beauty his mistress. Ms Warr has a doctorate in art history, so she’s no stranger to research. I asked her how difficult it had been to research Nest and her story.
She replied: “The kidnap of Nest from her Norman husband by the Welsh Prince Owain ap Cadwgan is recorded in the Brut y Tywysogion – The Chronicle of the Princes… Starting with that nub, I then research everything I can. There is often very little about the women themselves, sometimes a little more about their husbands and sons, about the times they lived in. It enables me to ask questions: why did she do that? Why did that happen? And to come up with researched, plausible, but imagined answers.”
Conquest wears its learning lightly. The novel is clearly meticulously researched, but it is never weighed down, and the detail about daily life at court, in Norman castles or in convents is always interspersed with great character development, engaging dialogue and page-turning action. Nest is a lively and engaging protagonist, one I look forward to meeting again when the next instalment in the trilogy is released.