Conquest II: The Drowned Court

Written by Tracey Warr
Review by Mary Fisk

This is the second volume of a trilogy based on the life of Nest ferch Rhys, the Welsh princess who was one of the many mistresses of the English King, Henry I, which began in Daughter of the Last King (HNR 79).

The year is 1107, and Henry has returned Nest to her Norman husband, Gerald FitzWalter, the castellan of Pembroke. She is emotionally divided between her Welsh heritage, her love for her half-Norman children, and her growing affection for her husband. The resurgence of the Welsh resistance to Norman rule threatens to destabilise her life.

A subplot focuses on the nun, Benedicta—sister of Haith de Bruges, Nest and Gerald’s sheriff at Pembroke—and her involvement in the network of spies run by King Henry’s politically astute sister, Adela de Blois.

Tracey Warr’s meticulous research—with a couple of acknowledged anachronisms to carry plot elements—conjures vividly the domestic life, the courtly intrigue and the brutality of the age. The opening chapters fill in the backstory expertly. At the centre of the story are two strong women: Nest, torn in her loyalties, but resilient in spite of the tumultuous events that impact on her life and her family; and Benedicta, whose questing, curious nature leads her into dangerous places, both physically and spiritually. The men in Nest’s life—Henry, Gerald and the Welsh Prince, Owain ap Cadwgan—show themselves fallible.

I would thoroughly recommend this book, which immerses the reader so deeply in its world. It ends on a cliffhanger that certainly tempts me to read on.

One cavil: an editor’s note has slipped through the proofreading to appear in print on p.257!