Conquist Dirk Strasser

Conquist: A Novel by Dirk Strasser
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A rip-roaring lost world adventure

For more than a century our collective imaginations have been set alight by tales of lost worlds and the brave or foolish explorers that stumble into them. Stories like Rice Burroughs’s The Land That Time Forgot, Conan Doyle’s The Lost World and H Rider Hagard’s King Solomon’s Mines have spun wonderous tales of places that exist beyond our wildest dreams. And it’s from such works that Strasser’s Conquist takes its cue.

Cristobal de Varga idolizes Pizarro and Cortes and – like them – admits to being victim to an ‘insatiable thirst for gold’. Having sacked Machu Pichu with his six hundred conquistadors at his back, he’s now searching for Vilcabamba, reputed hiding place of Incan leader Manco Inca, where he and his men will find the mountains of gold they so desire. After six months of fruitless searching Varga has all but given up hope when his men pursue an Incan messenger through a mountainous pass. Following on, Varga finds a strange valley under an angry red sky where his men are attacked by bearded warriors. It’s then he discovers there is no way back to his own world. And so Varga must travel onward through a treacherous, hostile land in search of both the gold his men expect and a way home for all of them.

Like the best ‘lost world’ stories, the action of Conquist is unrelenting from the moment Varga and his men step through the one-way ‘entrada’ until the very last page. Through his travels, Varga encounters the strangest of flora and fauna, others like him who have wandered into this world only to be lost, enemies who become allies, and seeming friends who will betray them all.

Varga himself is a fascinating character, seemingly cruel and uncaring of the misery he inflicts on the Incas, staunchly loyal to his men, hoping to raise himself and his cousin Diego from penury and struggling with the legacy and memory of his father who chose honour above gold. He’s a clever tactician and brave in a fight and he and his men experience fearful battles, strange discoveries, desperate flights and pursuits, hidden places, and unimaginable wonders in equal measure while Varga learns a few hard truths about himself and his place in the world. He may not achieve all that he desires, but perhaps there are other more personal victories possible that can bring him peace.

I tore through the novel in record time. Conquist is a rip-roaring action adventure with heart that is sure to please.

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