All content on this blog is protected by copyright.
Content used elsewhere without attribution constitutes theft of intellectual property and will be prosecuted.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Review of "The Last Crusader Kingdom"

A Review by Reuben Steenson for the Online Book Club of
The Last Crusader Kingdom
by Helena P. Schrader 

Having reached the 30-page mark of The Last Crusader Kingdom by Helena P. Schrader, I knew I was hooked. With a few deft strokes, the main characters were expertly created and I wanted (no, needed) to know what would happen to them. My interest did not diminish across the 350+ pages, as the plot gathered in complexity and further intriguing characters were added to the mix. Because of its readability, the impressive quality of its research, its flawless editing, and its simple, engaging style I rate The Last Crusader Kingdom 4 out of 4 stars.
The main plot focuses on Aimery de Lusignan as he travels to Cyprus in the 12th century in an attempt to establish control of the island. I have always been interested in the medieval crusades, but knew very little about the time period (beyond having read Ivanhoe by Walter Scott and picked up various scraps from films). After reading this novel, I am keen to find out more, as Schrader brought the period to life and navigated her way through a confusing and tumultuous era with aplomb.

Certainly, I was impressed by the manner in which Schrader was able to fill the reader in with the necessary context without it ever seeming obtrusive or exterior to the plot. All of the rich detail was cunningly wrapped up in the action of the novel. Schrader's passion for history comes across in her ability to render historical events in an exciting and accessible manner. Her credentials are undeniable: she has a PhD in history and a string of fiction and non-fiction books under her belt. This experience is apparent in The Last Crusader Kingdom, which is an assured and perfectly executed historical novel.

I really enjoyed the introductory essay, in which Schrader explains her thesis based on original research and outlines exactly where her plot sticks to known historical fact and where she makes use of creative license. Even at this stage I was keen to read on, as the introduction did not read like a dry historical treatise, but as a persuasive and thrilling journey alongside Schrader as she uncovered new evidence and presented novel theories. This essay is supplemented by maps, a character list, historical notes and a glossary.

Beyond the authenticity of the story, Schrader excels in telling an interesting tale, and particularly in presenting relationships of all types. She explores family loyalties, power struggles, and the relationship between the church and the state, as well as capturing something of the ferment of the medieval Mediterranean - a real melting pot of languages, religions and social classes. I loved the way Schrader could portray the motivations and thoughts of a variety of (often antagonistic) characters with fairness and balance.

The characters which I grew most attached to were Maria Comnena, a wise and fiesty noblewoman, and John d'Ibelin, squire to Aimery, who matures and develops throughout the novel to reach manhood and knighthood. Each character was distinct and well-drawn, which was the main strength of this book for me. One of the main protagonists, Balian d'Ibelin (John's father) is the subject of a previous trilogy of novels by Schrader - a fact I only learned after reading The Last Crusader Kingdom. Prior knowledge of these is not needed, however: this definitely works as a stand-alone novel in its own right.

Lastly, Schrader's style was another strong point. She writes in a straightforward and unpretentious manner and yet manages to create vivid, believable scenes and an exciting plot. Her descriptions were economical yet entirely apt, and I found it easy to visualise each location. I highly recommend this book to any fans of historical fiction, as it is an outstanding book of its type. Schrader's knowledgeability, insight into human character, and pleasing narrative style all add up to a really great read. I definitely plan to read further novels by Schrader in the near future!

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome feedback and guest bloggers, but will delete offensive, insulting, racist or hate-inciting comments. Thank you for respecting the rules of this blog.