A debut novel, the first installment of a historical fiction series, follows a knight stationed in the Levant during the Crusades.
In the stifling heat of the desert, Robert Simmonwood waits in a pit. A true knight driven by honor, duty, and his word above all else, he endures the harsh “land cursed with wasted blood and death,” waiting for a messenger with a secret that will help the king, who is “alone in a sea of hostility; not knowing who his real enemy was.” The messenger finally arrives, revealed to be a woman and an emissary of the mysterious Old Man of the Mountain. Robert brings her back to the ancient city of Acre, believing his mission is finally over. But he will meet her again as hostilities stirring in the Levant against the ruling Christian families lead them on a voyage to discover the truth about who might be disrupting the region’s fragile peace. Their paths will also cross with Venetian shipping mogul Lucca Ricci. Lucca rose from destitution through malice and cunning to rule “a most unsavory army of rogues and layabouts that served him in all manner of ways.” He has also come to the East in search of answers, and for his beloved grandson, whom he wants to save from the useless bloodshed of these interminable holy wars at any cost. Garner’s wistful and dense prose is evocative of ancient times and incredible settings, bringing to mind Umberto Ecco’s famous medieval murder mystery, The Name of the Rose. But while these long, thoughtful passages offer complexity to the characters’ points of view on the Crusades—they grapple with racism and occupation in a way that feels apt even for today—they do little to advance the action of the plot or even fully flesh out the historical context of the tale. Lengthy, vague tirades about distrust and medieval geopolitics never answer basic questions about geography, time period, or alliances. The author also gives supposed villain Lucca a full, rich back story while protagonist Robert remains dully adrift in the confusion. Beautiful as some of this book is, it’s a shaky foundation for a series.
Exotic landscapes and arcane inner monologues
add intriguing texture but too little substance to this medieval tale.