Duke, by David Churchill, is the second book in The Leopards of Normandy trilogy. This series tells a fictionalised version of the story of William, Duke of Normandy, who is remembered as The Conqueror. The first book in the series was Devil, which I reviewed here.
The story opens with the reading of Archbishop Robert of Rouen’s will in which he tried to ensure that nine year old William, the boy Duke, would have loyal advisors and guardians to care for him until he came of age. Despite the many familial links of blood and marriage between the powerful and wealthy families of the region, loyalties could not be relied upon. This period in history was a real life Game of Thrones.
During the fourteen years covered by this installment in the tale there are numerous assassinations and changes of allegiance as each of the key characters schemes to further their own cause. Alongside the rivalries being played out in Normandy, the reader is kept up to date with the goings on in England where three kings are crowned in succession without producing an heir.
Historical fact is intertwined with myth and literary licence to provide a colourful and compelling account of life in these troubled times. The harrying of Worcester and the battle scenes portray how tenuous this could be. A lack of medical knowledge and skill meant injury and illness were treated with little more than prayer.
The reader is taken into the heart of a familiar tale told anew. The protagonist must survive yet tension is maintained as he encounters assassins, a wild boar and erstwhile friends determined to supplant him. The author is a skilled story teller who has done his research and chosen well how to present the accepted accounts of the times alongside more fanciful elements. His notes at the end suggest that many of the apparently imaginative characters and events are lifted from chronicles written at the time.
For fans of historical fiction who relish the intricacies and intrigue of a ruthless, feudal system of governance, this is a fascinating and enjoyable read: history brought vividly to life.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.