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.