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Conquest: 3 Kindle Edition
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|Length: 288 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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|Age Level: 10 - 10|
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This is, supposedly, Tome 3 of the epic "Conquest" trilogy. However, and rather obviously for someone who knows a bit of the period, it seems that the author has been a bit too prolific and could not finish the story of Robert and Roger the Hauteville within his trilogy, as expected. So he cuts it off after the fall of Palermo (1072), given the impression that Sicily was as good as conquered by then. In fact, it took another 19 years for Roger to complete the conquest of the island while his brother Robert would live on another 13 years, conquer Salerno, invade the BYzantine Empire twice and march against the German King/Emperor to rescue the pope.
This is in fact my main grip with this tome: it is a piece of historical fiction, not a historical novel, meaning that the author has taken a lot of liberties with the actual facts and has presented a rather biaised version - very pro-norman (and especially pro-Roger) - of what happened.
Here are a few examples (but they are in fact many more):
- the book opens up with a Norman siege of the port of Brindisi with the help of a Venetian squadron of galleys to blockade it by sea. Rather unrealistic since the Venetians were (in theory, by that time) vassals of the Byzantine Emperor and would in fact become his allies in fighting against Robert Guiscard. Anyway, the would never have sided (and didn't) with the Normans, and especially NOT to help the Normans in wresting the ports of Apulia from the Emperor from which they could control traffic along the Adriatic
- the siege of Bari is also a bit of a fantasy. The byzantine military commander (Paternos) was the Catepan (not the so-called "Bisanzio", which seems to have been a nickname for the head of the pro-byzantine faction amonf the - mainly Lombard - citizens of Bari). Paternos did not die during the siege. In fact, and after a spirited defense of the city, he surrendered on terms and he, his garrison of professionnal byzantine soldiers and many sailors from Bari participated in the siege and storm of Palermo a few months afterwards
- A more general problem is the overall impression given throughout the book, which is largely inspired by the (pro-norman) sources. The conquest of Byzantine Italy and of Muslim Sicily were no walk-overs: each took about 30 years to complete. Resistance was both fiercer and more effective than what the book makes out and the Normans were not always victorious
- Another point is the way the author has chosen to depict the characters: the faithful and brave Roger and his cunning, powerful but mean elder brother Robert. This comes directly from Goeffrey Malaterra's "biography" of Roger, who commandered the work. Needless to say, the story it tells is not exactly unbiaised. In fact, both brothers were essentially driven by self-interest and survival: they would be allies as long at it suited them and/or as long as one could oblige the other to comply.
Interestingly, after the fall of Palermo, Robert never came back to Sicily, leaving his younger brother to cope on his own for the rest of the conquest. Roger did not participate in Robert's the attacks against the BYzantine Empire, some 10 years latter because he obviously had no interest to do so. In both cases, each brother could have done with a bit of help...
The only time when they collaborate was against the German Emperor and to defend the pope (Gregory VII - Hildebrandt) that had legitimized their rule. So much for the family fealings that our heroes were supposed to have, according to the sources and this book
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