Brutally honest and sincere, England's lost heroes are honoured once more.

Brutally honest and sincere, England’s lost heroes are honoured once more.

The year is 1126 and deep in the Northumbrian countryside two men travel the wilderness in search of knowledge. The man they seek – a usurped prince, shrewd diplomat and noble warrior of God – is Edgar the Atheling, rightful heir to the English throne.

His story is about to come to life in haunting beauty. Here we see the founding fathers of the code of chivalry and the legacy of honour they left to us all.

The second novel by Somerset author Stewart Binns, Conquest was born out of its creator’s love of English history and folklore.

The former academic and soldier, now also works as a documentary producer – as well as running courses in fiction, screen-writing and documentary narratives.

He has now released five novels: four based upon the Norman Conquest and Plantagenets and his most recent novel, published last year, based upon the First World War.

I’ll openly admit that when I first picked this novel up I wasn’t sure what to expect. However I was thoroughly and happily surprised.

A masterful feat of both captivating storytelling and intimate historical detail, this book is a definitive crowd-pleaser for both historical enthusiast and novices alike.

Crusade makes for one of the most powerful and at times subtly brilliant pieces of writing I have ever read.

I was concerned about the possibility of bias and stereotyping within the novel, nevertheless again these fears were abated. Binns has managed to construct a narrative that I believe is on the whole quite fair.

Yes there are Norman baddies, religious bigots and Turkish foes. But for each there is also a counterbalance – there are respectable Normans, admirable and at times merciful adversaries and heroes of all creeds to be revered.

The main bulk of the novel is told through Edgar himself, who is recounting his story to Abbot William of Malmesbury – a well-known and respected Norman chronicler.

The first person narrative absorbs the reader fully and, as terribly cliché as it might sound, gives the character a whole new dimension of vitality.

Binns’ descriptive writing is fantastic, encapsulating a range of senses and sights and makes the whole thing all the more real.

His retelling starts just into the Norman conquest in 1072 and depicts Edgars struggle to come to terms with the loss of his crown, the pressures of fitting into a rapidly changing England and his quest for truth and justice.

It is a pursuit that will carry him across the entirety of Christendom, and gain him loyal allies from the unlikeliest of backgrounds.

The author’s first novel, Conquest, details the Anglo Saxon resistance, led by Hereward of Bourne, after the 1066 Battle of Hastings (or Senlac Ridge as it is referred to in both novels).

However you don’t need to have read it to understand the second novel. I simply jumped straight into Crusade and didn’t feel like I had missed out on anything, as it was all neatly and simply explained to me throughout.

Whilst perhaps not for those with an incredibly squeamish disposition, if you only ever pick up one book up this year – I strongly recommend you choose this one. It really hit something deep inside me in a way I never imagined it would.

Simply beautiful.

Published in 2012 by Penguin, Crusade retails at £6.99 and Conquest released in 2011 by the same publisher, retails at £7.99.


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