Rite of Conquest

Written by Judith Tarr
Review by Ilysa Magnus

Part historical fiction, part historical fantasy, Judith Tarr once again focuses her considerable talents on a seminal moment in history: the Norman Conquest.

It is foretold by the ancients that a Norman will return the old magic to Saxon England – Saxons who have crushed the old power with cold iron and the weight of Christianity. The man who will bring that magic with him is a bastard son of a duke and a Druid priestess.

But the young William is ill-equipped to be the Conqueror when we first meet him. It is only when he is trained by, and ultimately falls in love with, and marries, Mathilda of Flanders – herself a very powerful conduit of the old magic – that William develops his own magic and the strength to overcome those he considers the destroyers.

Tarr is ingenious in her ability to move seamlessly between history and fantasy, between love and war, between the new religion and the old magic, between Saxon and Norman. The pages are littered with historical figures who also have otherworldly traits. Mathilda and William are beautiful together: their very human, palpable love and potent attraction, their adoration of their children, their plans as a couple. It just happens that their power is not merely political, but magical as well. So a disclaimer: if you cannot suspend disbelief long enough to tolerate supernatural, magical elements interwoven into history, this book just isn’t for you.

But for me — what a fun read!