Sigh, yes I know the back cover copy says that it's 1152 and Henry II is the King of England. But even though the person who writes the back cover copy at Zebra doesn't know history, the author does; and she employs it to excellent effect, while tweaking things just enough to make this fictional story all her own.
After years of war, Guinevere de l'Ami is tired. Her beloved father is dead, and now the villain who lives on a neighboring estate is trying to force her into marriage. It's while she's busy thwarting his evil plans that she finds herself rescued by Griffyn "Pagan" Sauvage. What neither of them knows? Each others true identity. Griffyn doesn't know that Gwyn (or "Raven" as he takes to calling her) is the daughter of his sworn enemy. And Gwyn has no idea that Griffyn is the rightful heir to her estate. Also? They both are on different sides of the continuing battle over the English throne. Gwyn backs King Stephen and Griffyn is working to secure the throne for Henry II.
There's also the small matter of some long, lost treasure rumored to be hidden on
Seriously, this is like the first 50 pages.
There is a lot going on in this book, and it couldn't have been easy for the author to juggle all of this in one story. However, Kennedy makes it work, with mysteries solved, loyalties tested, and the struggle for control of the English throne all be resolved by the end of the story. The author does tweak a few historical facts to make her story work, but they add to the drama and conflict of the story, and force Gwyn and Griffyn to admit their love and devotion to each other.
I suspect the one issue that will be hard for some readers to overcome is Gwyn's unflinching, unyielding loyalty to King Stephen - even after it's apparent to her, and the reader, that she's breathlessly in love with Griffyn. It's a hard thing to understand, I think, as a 21st century reader, that people in medieval times lived and died for their loyalty. So yeah, I'm not above admitting that I got annoyed with her...but a part of me did understand.
This is a big, sweeping saga of a story, and it's also a damn hard one to write a review for. It really has that epic quality that used to be so common place in historical romance, but has been absent for many years as the sub genre took off like a rocket during the late 1990s. For readers who miss "the golden age" of historical romance? The Conqueror has all you want, and more, since the author avoids the many pitfalls that plagued some of those stories of yesteryear (no forced seduction, the hero isn't a jackass, and the heroine isn't a brain dead twit). It's easy to see why this book finaled for RWA's Golden Heart award. It's really a very accomplished debut novel, and fans of medievals should just beat the Christmas rush and start rejoicing now.
Grade = B
ETA: Thanks to Jane from Dear Author for this Twitter update. For those of you who "do" ebooks - The Conqueror is on sale over at Books On Board for $2.38. Seriously. $2.38. Even if you think I'm full of crap and you end up not liking this story? It's $2.38! At that price how can you not try it? Hell, that's cheaper than a lot of the novellas and short stories being sold out in ebook-land.