The Crusades of the late-11th through early13th centuries are the subjects of this brimming, though by no means sprawling, semidocumentary novel, Connell's first since The Alchemist's Journal (1991).
Beginning with his enormously successful nonfictional history of Custer's Last Stand, Son of the Morning Star (1984), Connell has cultivated an increasingly opaque, strippeddown style that he modulates to telling effect in this anecdotal summary overview of the numerous attempts by many different ``soldiers of Christ'' to liberate the holy city of Jerusalem from Muslim ``infidels''—because, they are commanded to believe, ``God wills it!'' (Deus lo volt!). Jean de Joinville, son of an illustrious Frankish family, tells of his service in the Holy Land as ``seneschal'' (personal steward) to pious French King Louis IX; but Jean's (foreshortened) own story is preceded by fully fourfifths of the text, which recounts at leisure and in (often fascinating) dense period detail the history of Christianity's long foreign ordeal, beginning with Pope Urban's impassioned call-to-arms in a.d. 1095. The book’s eccentric proportions, however, in no way diminish the effect of the ravishing tale Connell spins (in the economical manner perfected by such classical historians as Herodotus and Livy): a colorful chronicle of exhaustive political intrigue, military hardship, heroism, and sacrifice, and rapturously related ``miracles''—culled from various contemporary sources, featuring such vivid historical figures as Richard the LionHearted and the wily Saracen leader Saladin, and expressed in Jean de Joinville's grave, reverential, utterly convincing voice. Deus lo volt! isn't exactly a novel; it's more of a narrative ``omnium gatherum,'' or ``anatomy,'' much closer in spirit to medieval saints' lives and wonder tales than to virtually any contemporary fiction about its demanding subject (Zoe Oldenbourg's almost forgotten historical novels are perhaps its closest equivalent).
Magnificent stuff. Readers who have already been captivated by Connell's departures from conventional fictional form will be eager to follow him down this curious and remarkable book's intricate, pristine, and illuminating path.