Conquest is the sequel to Unicorn & Dragon by Lynn Abbey. It picks up some months after the first book ended and moves from Hafwynder Manor to Torworden, the Norman encampment and stronghold of Stephen’s uncle, Lord Beauleyas. The latter is far more militarily-minded than the former, having few resident servants, most of whom choose to live in a nearby village that is not directly under Beauleyas’ eye. The Normans still see England as the place where they are, not yet the place where they live.
What does still live in England, however, are the old Cymric gods, and Alison is their priestess. However, Alison is still herself, willful and unwilling to surrender anything. This can make life rather interesting when one is her adopted sister, like Wildecent.
As I reflect on Conquest, I still fight against the same emotions that I had after Unicorn & Dragon. These books feel old. I feel like I wasn’t invested…yet I read through them quickly. But I still put them down often and thought of other things. One of the plot points I predicted near the beginning came true…but in a more…Arthurian manner, which I did not expect. The book concludes before William arrives, which is also interesting.
I think I enjoyed Conquest more, of the two, because it has more fantastical elements. On the other hand, if I didn’t like Alison in the first book, my dislike is exacerbated in this book because there is even less holding her back. In the end, I have to ask if the pros outweigh the cons…and I have to answer that I don’t actually know. I think I will keep the books for now, but I don’t know at this point if I’ll ever have the desire to reread them.
I do, however, have the desire to reread “Holly and Iron.” And since it’s only a short story, it’s easy enough to finish in well under an hour. Like Lynn Abbey’s books, Garth Nix’s short story starts with two sisters, one fair and English (or Inglish as this one has it), the other dark and Norman. However in this case, they truly are sisters, the daughters of King Harold. The elder Inglish by his first wife, the younger Norman by his second wife.
One main difference betweeen the two races in this story isn’t simply that the Normans are invaders, but that the two groups have very different magics. Inglish magic is of living things, holly, rowan and oak. The Normans are ironmasters of stone and metal. And Robin, the younger sister, has inherited both. Not just from her father King Harold, but also from her grandfather, King William.
It’s not long as short stories go, but it’s memorable and always enjoyable to revisit.