El Conquistador (The Conqueror) is a novel based on James I of Aragon. James I of Aragon is undoubtedly one my favorite Hispanic Crusader Kings. Not only is he one of the most colorful Hispanic Kings in all history, but also a very important figure in the entire medieval world. His reign was the longest of any king, all of military conquest stood up till the present time, and he is the first monarch to write an autobiography. The Book of Deeds of James I of Aragon (see my Book Review – The Book of Deeds of James I of Aragon).
This novel can be seen as a more fully comprehensive version of The Book of Deeds. Just about everything of Jame’s life is absolutely spectacular. From when he was conceived, the choosing of his name, to all of his crusades that he waged. To my surprise, this book starts and goes really in depth on the reign of James’ father, Pedro II of Aragon “The Catholic”. Pedro II is another very important crusader king in Spanish history, so even reading about him, we get to see another very colorful monarch (for lack of better words).
In this book we get to fully immerse ourselves on James upcoming as a child king under the Knights Templar. His consolidation on the Aragonese throne, to then waging massive military crusades against the Kingdom of Mallorca, Valencia, and Murcia. As well as his endless love affairs.
The 12th and 13th centuries are by far my favorite era in Hispanic history. Without being fully ridiculously romanticized, by reading this book we get to feel what it was to live during this amazing, and brutal history in time. Everything from political intrigue, Kings and Queens, Princesses, knights, troubadours, chivalry, heroic deeds, heroes and villains, romance, and epic battles. Quite frankly the only thing missing here is the magic element, which at this point we can even view this era as an epic high fantasy world!
This is such a good book. The character list, while its fairly long, not once did I felt lost on who is who. To me what I’ll remember most about this novel are not Jame’s epic battles and triumphs, but rather of his political failures. In particular his decision to relinquish his overlordship of what is now almost 1/3 of France, and the obvious long-term affects of that decision. As well as his failure to annex the Kingdom of Navarra after it was bequeath to him.