Review // Becoming The Conqueror, debut novel by Joseph T. Pickett

It seems like an impossible task to encapsulate, and give true relevance, to the life of a great historical figure - especially one such as William the Conqueror. However, Joseph T. Pickett does just this, with grace and authority, in his debut novel, Becoming The Conqueror.

William the Conqueror: the Norman bastard who became King of England in 1066 after the Battle of Hastings - the battle which began the Norman conquest in England, and changed England's position in the world forever.

That is how most people know William the Conqueror, but what was his life before he made his legacy in foreign lands? Before he was The Conqueror?

His mother started her life as a simple tanner girl, who gave birth to the illegitimate child of Robert, Duke of Normandy. William, often teased as William the Bastard in his youth, was forced into a world that did not accept him.

When his father died during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1035, William became the Duke of Normandy at the age of 8. This opened a power vacuum that plunged Normandy into civil war, and tested the young Duke and the loyalties of his closest advisors.

Pickett elegantly portrays the vulnerabilities of the young leader. From the tragic death of his father, to the brutal killing of his most trusted aid by rebel forces; Pickett puts William's early life into perspective for us all. He wasn't always a fierce warrior, he was once a naïve boy who had to grown up very quickly.

Despite knowing some of the atrocities that William committed during his lifetime, Pickett shows us the man who loved his mother, his wife, his country and whose pride was a driving force behind his success as a ruler. Through Pickett's writing, you root for the ambitious Duke, and feel sorry for him when he is being betrayed by everyone around him, even those closest to him.

All the characters introduced in this novel have depth, and you get an understanding of their personalities, no matter how small their parts are. I especially loved the relationship between William and his long-standing steward, FitzOsbern; they are like brothers both on and off the battlefield. The humorous dialogue between the pair gives a vivid insight into the personality of the great conqueror.

In addition to being extremely well-written, Pickett has mastered what only great historical fiction writers can, and that's writing for an amateur audience, in an intelligent way. You don't have to have a background into the life of William the Conqueror to enjoy this novel, Pickett will gracefully introduce you.

We see William painstakingly try to prove himself, as well as overcome rebellions from all fronts: from the disloyal Counts of his own land, to the King of France. Throughout all this, Pickett gives us a clear insight into a seemingly complicated man, and shows us the personality behind the sword and shield.

For me, Becoming the Conqueror teaches us that the journey towards legacy is just as important as the legacy itself. It becomes clear towards the end of the novel that William could never have conquered England, and become King, the way he did without his early challenges and successes as Duke of Normandy. His experiences take him from an inexperienced youth, to an accomplished man capable of conquering England - which is where the book leaves us.

As a debut author, Pickett has certainly set a precedent for himself, and I cannot wait to see what he will bring us next.

Favourite quote from the book:
"Normandy never fears. Normandy survives."

You can get the Kindle edition of Becoming the Conqueror here.

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