QUEEN OF SWORDS by Judith Tarr


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 Historical novel about Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem, by the author of King and Goddess (p. 853) and many others. Melisende came to power during the stormy interlude between the First and Second Crusades, after French and Norman knights had conquered the Holy Land and divided it into four Christian principalities. Tarr characterizes Melisende as a strong-willed woman forced, thanks to a shortage of suitable men, to marry a much older French noble, Count Fulk. When he dies in battle, she becomes queen, but her kingdom comes quickly under attack. Much of the novel is palace intrigue: the struggle for position among sons, knights, mistresses, and courtesans, and Melisende's own struggle to consolidate her power after Fulk is killed. Though Tarr's rendering of the privations of the desert and of battle are gripping, she's most entertaining in domestic scenes. After Melisende gives birth to her son, Baldwin, for instance, she announces that she'll not go to bed again with her husband, since her duty to him is done, and no man matters enough to endure childbirth again. As Tarr explains: ``Each child that was born took its mother to the gates of death.'' But despite all that Baldwin has cost her, Melisende sends him into a foolish battle against the infidels, after which he challenges her openly for her crown. He pits his army against hers, eventually becoming King of Jerusalem but leaving his mother in control of the Church. Tarr moves among points of view narrates most events through a fictional Frenchwoman, Lady Richildis, who, having trekked to Jerusalem seeking her brother, becomes a lady-in-waiting for the queen. Richildis is also a strong woman but finds rather more happiness in rather less lusting for power. Tarr's large and devoted readership won't be disappointed.

Pub Date: Feb. 17th, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-85821-3
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Forge
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1996


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