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

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Defender of Jerusalem

A BIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL OF BALIAN D'IBELIN

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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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