"...a surprisingly addictive narrative. Schrader is a deft, knowledgeable writer, capable of portraying a complicated historical period through accessible, descriptive prose .... With her focus on the individual, albeit imagined, personal dramas of the primary protagonists, Schrader brings detail, excitement, and life to a bygone era."– Kirkus Reviews
A European emperor goes to war with his own Crusader subjects in this historical novel.
Frederick II Hohenstaufen, the Holy Roman emperor, is the nominal overlord of Outremer—the Crusader states that European Christians established in the Holy Land. But Frederick’s temporary treaty with the sultan of the Saracens has made him unpopular with Outremer’s Christians, who feel beset by enemies on all sides. What’s more, the emperor’s claim to the throne of Jerusalem is being disputed by the local lords there. In all these matters, Frederick blames John d’Ibelin, the honorable lord of Beirut, who recently seized Cyprus from the emperor’s chosen governors and who has won the favor of the land’s teenage king, Henry. Frederick strips John of his title and of Beirut itself, ordering that the Ibelins “vacate the city within 30 days of the judgment of this court or face the consequences of their treason.” As the emperor moves to subdue his own subjects, the embattled Ibelins—including John’s impulsive but capable heir, Balian, and his teenage daughter, Bella, who aspires to become a nun—are left to protect all they have built while withstanding the wrath of an entire empire. Schrader’s (Rebels Against Tyranny, 2018, etc.) prose manages to summon the culture and time period of the Crusader states while remaining light and readable: “As far as the Archbishop knew, this man had not committed any great sins—at least not recently. There were rumors, of course. Whispers of nuns ravaged and churches plundered, but from long ago, and the victims had been Greek, in any case.” The houses and backstories are as dense as anything from Frank Herbert or George R.R. Martin, and this slows the pace down a bit even as Schrader attempts to hew to the tales of a few main characters. The amount of detail and underlying research in the novel is remarkable, and fans of history will not mind the digressions and connections that ornament the plot. The author manages to spin quite an epic out of this relatively obscure historical event, bringing a vibrant forgotten world to life in the process.
An impressively imagined empire tale set in the medieval Levant.
In Schrader’s (The Last Crusader Kingdom, 2017, etc.) historical novel, the Ibelin family fights to protect their honor and their position against a tyrannical Holy Emperor in 13th-century Cyprus and the Middle East.
The handsome, recently knighted Sir Balian II of the House of Ibelin can’t please his father, John d’Ibelin, Lord of Beirut, who considers his eldest son and heir to be impulsive and decadent; moreover, his reputation as a lady’s man seems inescapable. His uncle, Philip, is baillie of Cyprus on behalf of the 7-year-old King Henry I, and he strives to keep the peace in the land. When Amaury Barlais, a bitter knight, nearly kills someone after accusing him of cheating in a joust, he becomes the Ibelin family’s enemy for life. In Sicily, Frederick II Hohenstaufen, the Holy Roman Emperor, weds the young Yolanda, queen of Jerusalem, for a political alliance, but when he doesn’t keep his word regarding royal succession, it sets off a terrible chain of events. The emperor also wants to win back the Holy Land from the Saracens, and he calls on his subjects to help him. This sprawling work is full of excitement, with plenty of jousts, sieges, and daring escapes. The story features a huge cast of characters, and it takes readers on adventures through Cyprus, Acre, Jaffa, and other locales; however, there are maps, family trees, and character descriptions at the beginning that will help wayward readers. The well-meaning but flawed Sir Balian is a great central figure—a bit like William Shakespeare’s portrayal of the young Prince Hal, without being too clever for his (and his people’s) own good. The leading female characters, meanwhile, aren’t blushing maidens waiting to be rescued but rather forceful actors in their own rights.
An exciting royal adventure with a large cast.
Schrader (Envoy of Jerusalem: Balian d’Ibelin and the Third Crusade, 2016, etc.) follows up her Jerusalem Trilogy with an imaginative, fictionalized account of the d’Ibelin and Lusignan families and the founding of the Kingdom of Cyprus.
By the last decade of the 12th century, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was reduced to one-fourth its original size. Even the city of Jerusalem was now held by the Saracens (Arab Muslims), who had overwhelmed the Christian lords and knights in 1187 and 1188. The novel opens in 1193, and Balian d’Ibelin (a celebrated knight, member of the high court, and husband of Maria Zoë Comnena, dowager queen of Jerusalem) now lives in reduced circumstances in the manor house of his barony in Caymont. When he learns that Aimery de Lusignan, constable of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, has been arrested for treason under orders from Henri de Champagne, he travels to a palace in Acre to broker a deal with Champagne. Balian has a special interest in the affair. Aimery is married to Eschiva, Balian’s niece. Champagne agrees to the terms: Aimery resigns his position and is released to join his brother Guy de Lusignan, Lord of Cyprus, to help maintain rule over the rebellious Orthodox Greek Cypriots. Thus begins the eventual migration of the Lusignan and d’Ibelin families to Cyprus. Readers may find the extensive character list, which occupies several pages, and complex relationships daunting. Plus, there is a plethora of alliances, marriages, and historic, cultural, and religious clashes to be navigated. But just a bit of effort brings the reward of a surprisingly addictive narrative. Schrader is a deft, knowledgeable writer, capable of portraying a complicated historical period through accessible, descriptive prose (“The gold mosaics, the blue, turquoise, and aqua-colored tiles, the marble fountains, and the potted hibiscus”). With her focus on the individual, albeit imagined, personal dramas of the primary protagonists, Schrader brings detail, excitement, and life to a bygone era. And she offers a little something for everyone: royal intrigue, rivalry, bloody battles, love, tragedy, and memorable characters.
Best for fans of historical fiction but engaging enough for a broader audience.
In this third installment of Schrader’s (Defender of Jerusalem, 2015, etc.) series of historical novels on the life of crusader Balian d’Ibelin, the Christian and Islamic worlds vie for control of the Holy Land during the Third Crusade.
As the story begins, Jerusalem has fallen to Salah ad-Din Yusuf, sultan of Egypt and Damascus. Through clever negotiation, Balian secures the citizens’ lives, as well as the release of anyone able to pay a ransom; still, many thousands of poor people get sold into slavery, a fact that haunts Balian through the rest of the novel. After the death of Jerusalem’s Queen Sibylla, many question the idea that the usurper, King Guy de Lusignan—characterized as being “despised for leading the Christian army to an unnecessary defeat and losing the entire Kingdom as a result”—has the right to rule. Against a backdrop of flailing military campaigns to retake lost cities, a complicated scheme unfolds to put the queen’s sister, Balian’s stepdaughter, Isabella, on the throne after she repudiates her marriage to the ineffectual Humphrey de Toron and marries the more ambitious Conrad de Montferrat. The rift between the two pretenders to the throne is further complicated by the arrival of the kings of France and England, who each back a different claimant. But the presence of the larger-than-life King Richard the Lionheart, who ‘had seemed invincible—indeed, immortal,’ reinvigorates the Christian fighting forces, leading the armies to improbable victories. Overall, the novel’s prose is fluid and engaging, and Schrader presents the dialogue in clear, generally formal, modern language. However, this style may frustrate sticklers who are more concerned with authenticity than accessibility; for example, King Richard uses contemporary idiom when commenting on Guy de Lusignan’s chances of being chosen king: “He doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.” The volume of characters in the book can be daunting, especially as many take turns providing their own points of view. When clearly signaled, these shifts can offer engaging glimpses into the world of the story, but when they happen multiple times in the span of only a few pages, it can become confusing.
An often entertaining novel of particular interest to fans of military epics and historical political intrigues.
Schrader (Knight of Jerusalem, 2014, etc.) delivers the second book in a historical fiction trilogy about12th-century crusader Balian d’Ibelin.
The first volume in this series saw Balian rise from the position of a landless knight to a baron over the course of nearly a decade. At the outset of this installment, the year is 1178 and Balian is married to the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, Maria. The “exceptionally tall, dark-haired and well tanned” Balian visits with the very ill king of Jerusalem. The king hopes to settle his succession, so his concern rests with Balian, and those whose job it is to defend the Holy Land. Muslim forces, including those under the control of Salah ad-Din, are bent on the destruction of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and available resources are spread thin. What can be done “to keep the Holy Land safe for Christian settlers and Christian pilgrims”? Enter the infamous Knights Templar, who propose building a fort at Jacob’s Ford on the Upper Jordan. As construction progresses and blood is spilled, readers are taken on a journey into a time of hostile multiculturalism. People as diverse as Scottish knights, Greek clergy, and the Fatimid Caliphate converge in peaceful and not-so-peaceful ways as the book deftly paints a time of international conflict. The idea that Europeans ever had a stronghold in the Middle East, let alone a kingdom, may surprise readers unfamiliar with the time period. Regardless of readers’ knowledge, however, the era will prove indisputably fascinating as cultures (and swords) clash. The descriptions can be lengthy and occasionally obvious, such as when wealthy guests at an important wedding are said to come “bearing gifts with an eye to gaining favor,” or when Maria reflects on the possibility of her husband dying: “what a bleak and desolate place this world would be without him!” Taken as a whole, though, the novel succeeds in exploring not only Balian himself, but also the time and place that might produce such a man. Despite its many formalities, honorable words, and pleas to God, it’s an era that may leave many readers wondering, as one character does about the Christian forces, “Why didn’t God help them?”
Fans of the genre will find much to treasure in this action-ready, if occasionally simplified, historical depiction.