An unusual book, this, and one that the Book Club choice may help into the prominence it deserves on its own merits. The subject is so remote from our general knowledge, the lack of a sympathetic central character or plot, inevitable in a book of the kind, are both factors that might well have hindered its recognition. The story revolves around the beginnings of the Franciscan Order -- the launching of the abortive Fifth Crusade; into this complex fabric of thirteenth century Europe are woven various subplots. There is the gathering of the tragic Children's Crusade, with its dastardly end, as the few children who survived the storm and shipwreck are sold into slavery. There is the journey of Francis and his first handful of followers to Rome, to get permission from pope Innocent III to found an Order dedicated to poverty and the rules of Jesus Christ. There is the story of the love of Jean de Brienne and Blanche of Champagne, a love which cost Jean the leadership of the Fifth Crusade and brought about its failure under the stubborn ambition of the Cardinal Pelagius. There is the record of Francis' visit to the Sultan, of the lenience with which he was received and permitted to go on to the Holy Land and the sepulchre -- and of the message of friction back in Europe among his followers which persuaded him to return....Though not their first publication in this country, this comes near enough to the launching of an American list by a famous polish house, to serve as their introduction to a large American public.