Monday 3 April 2017

THE HEART OF THE CONQUEROR by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Goodreads HERE 

How I discovered this book: I first got to know of Gemma Lawrence via Twitter, and have been reading her since she published on Wattpad only.  I've loved all her books, my favourite being La Petite Boulain, about the early life of Anne Boleyn.  You can see my reviews of her other books by clicking the 'Gemma Lawrence' tag at the end of this one.

This is something I love ~ historical fiction about a time with which I'm not that familiar, written in such a way that it teaches me about the period.  This is the story of the events that brought about the Norman Conquest of 1066, written from the point of view of Matilda, the wife of William, Duke of Normandy, aka The Conqueror.  Not only does it tell the story of the two of them, but also gives much background about the Vikings, Saxons and the rulers of northern Europe, who came before them; it made me want to read deeper into the history (preferably written by this author), and I was completely engrossed.

I investigated the story of Matilda and William while I was reading the book, so I'd know what came from fact and what is of Ms Lawrence's creation, and could see that she's stuck close to 'the script', but told their story in such a way that only she can.  Gemma Lawrence's Matilda is clever, vain, proud, ambitious to the point of egomania, narcissistic in the extreme, and so assured of her superiority over all beings apart from her husband that she thinks even her God speaks to her, and that she can buy his grace with gifts of money and her own daughter; in anyone's hands apart from this author's, I might not have wanted to read about her, but I loved this book.  Of course the church has long been corrupt, with those high up in it behaving far from the basic ethos of Christianity, but, reading this, it occurred to me that the early Christians did, in fact, treat their God as the pagans did theirs, by offering up material goods in exchange for imagined/expected favours; the insight into the spiritual beliefs of the time fascinated me.

There is much expression of the passion between Matilda and William in this novel, and I will admit to skip-reading some accounts of their frenzied coupling so I could get back to the actual story, but these passages were written so well, highlighted the fierce love between them, and were not in the least bit cringe-making.  Their love was illustrated so beautifully when they were fully clothed, too, in the way they worked as one to fulfil their mutual ambition ~ and there's a terrific section when William comes back from battle seriously ill, and Matilda and a monk work tirelessly to nurse him back to health.

The last 20% is taken up with the preparation for and the events of the Battle of Hastings.  As the book is written from the point of view of Matilda, I wondered how the novel would end without an anti-climax, as, of course, Matilda was not present, but no: the battle is described in all its horror and gory glory, and Ms Lawrence has found an artful way to make sure no detail was spared.

The question of violence towards women arises in this book, as Matilda's first encounter with William was a brutal one, and Ms Lawrence discusses this at some length in the Author's Note at the end of the book, but even as I was reading it I thought this: we can't judge the people of hundreds of years ago on the standards by which we live now, because attitudes were vastly different, and we do not walk in their shoes.  I add this into the review only to make you aware that there is an occurrence of violence towards a woman at the hand of a man, near the beginning. 

This is a long book; sometimes there is repetition, with the same factual detail provided more than onceOn the odd occasion it felt a little research-heavy, and I felt one or two observations might have worked better written in the present tense, but none of these doubts mattered a jot overall; Gemma Lawrence writes with such intelligence, emotion and innate understanding of her characters and period, and I am so looking forward to reading the next partAmazon tells us that the highest star ranking should mean 'I loved it', and I did, I loved this book, so I'm happy to award it all five of those potential stars.

In 2015, Gemma Lawrence appeared on my series about writers and their star signs, The Zodiac Files.  You can see her piece HERE



  1. Thanks, Terry. I'm always interested to know what Gemma Lawrence is writing. Great review and thanks for the warning too. I agree we must remember, when reading historical fiction, that, thankfully, times have changed and we cannot whitewash the past.

    1. This is an amazing epic, Olga! The only problem with her books is that they make me unable to write for a couple of days afterwards.