Deftly time-shuffled debut historical set in 13th-century Spain.
For his own safety, 26-year-old Francisco de Montaldo, who returned from the Crusades mute and seemingly possessed, has been chained in a dungeon at the Cistercian monastery of Santes Creus, where he now wastes away. His fabulously wealthy family boasts great fame and honor in the Church; by their gifts to the spiritual glory of Christ’s kingdom, the Montaldos have bought special privilege in heaven. Francisco has been at Santes Creus for ten years, initially sent there to recover from spells of deep melancholy seemingly prompted by the drowning of his older brother Sergio on a Crusade. Now Brother Lucas strives to exorcise the devil while Francisco piecemeal reveals his trials on the Crusade that has left him rotting mentally. Are Francisco’s crooked smile and his demons connected to his brother’s death, or to the fact that Francisco castrated and killed the abbot of Santes Creus, who had himself raped and caused the death of the servant girl Noelle? Why did Francisco take up the Cross and go on King Jaime’s Crusade against the infidel? A dream of the drowned Sergio pointed his brother toward the Holy City, but was it Satan’s finger? What happened at the great fortress of Krak des Chevaliers, to which the infidels laid siege and which Francisco helped defend with his beloved huge cousin Andres? When Francisco saves Andres’ sister Isabel after she falls through ice and nearly drowns, he finds himself deeply in love with the bright, outspoken 16-year-old. The slaughter of his mates at the battle of Toron wakens Francisco to horror before ungrasped. But the true horror begins at the besieged Krak, where Francisco and Andres are betrayed and given to the Muslims as prisoners at the Citadel in Aleppo.
Not stylish, but fast-moving and richly colored.