Fans of the genre will find much to treasure in this action-ready, if occasionally simplified, historical depiction.

Defender of Jerusalem


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.  

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62787-273-7

Page Count: 630

Publisher: Wheatmark

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2015

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The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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