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Rite of Conquest    by Judith Tarr order for
Rite of Conquest
by Judith Tarr
Order:  USA  Can
Roc, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Judith Tarr has retold several accounts of well-known figures from a historical fantasy worldview in which old magic co-exists with the world of iron - including the legend of Roland in Kingdom of the Grail; Hippolyta in Queen of the Amazons; King Richard in Devil's Bargain; and Prince John in Pride of Kings (I especially enjoyed the latter for its transformation of John from historical villain to almost hero).

In Rite of Conquest, Tarr takes on William of Normandy, the Battle of Hastings, and the necessary sacrifice of a king. Though not her best work, it is similar in style to the others. Tarr shows William as the Duke of Normandy's bastard by a powerful sorceress, hunted by real and supernatural enemies (in this account, his mother gave him up to this fate in order to forge his spirit into steel). William is 'the one foretold: king once, king hereafter'; in a previous life, he was Artos (Arthur). Here, Mathilda of Flanders is a young sorceress, assigned to teach William how to use his magic. Two strong, high-tempered individuals, they clash often but are also strongly attracted to one another.

The battle for England is presented here as part of a bigger struggle for the continued existence of the old powers. King Edward of England is portrayed as mainly under the control of those who wish to eliminate magic from the world (including his wife Edith) - but yet he names William as his heir. Harold, despite an oath to William and their friendship, is persuaded to take the crown on Edward's death - leading to Hastings. Harold is portrayed as a good, misguided man, who only wants to 'stand between his people and the dark.' Earl Tosti, one of the more interesting characters in the book, is strong in magic, but driven mad by those who've tried to crush the Otherworld from his spirit.

Anything Judith Tarr writes is worth reading, and I enjoyed Rite of Conquest as a well written romantic historical fantasy, and look forward to the sequel, King's Blood that continues with the next generation.

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