4 out of 4 stars
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Frederick II Hohenstaufen, the Holy Roman Emperor, accuses John d’Ibelin of illegally holding the fief of Beirut and demands its surrender. However, the High Court recognizes John as the rightful lord. Disregarding this verdict, the Emperor sends an army to disseize Beirut. To the Emperor's dismay, the lords of Jerusalem oppose the assault and pledge their fealty to the King of Cyprus. Meanwhile, the Pope threatens to excommunicate Sir Balian, the eldest son of John, to further dishonor the Ibelins. Faced with a political stalemate, how will the Ibelins thwart the unjust advances of the Emperor? The Emperor Strikes Back by Helena P. Schrader is an authentic account of this battle.
This book cannot be considered historical fiction. The narrative is primarily based on the historical accounts of Sir Philip de Novare, a vassal of Beirut. Hence, the incidents and the characters are real and not mere figments of Schrader’s imagination. However, Schrader did an admirable job of giving the book the essence of fiction. This well-researched version delivers real historical facts without compromising the pace and thrill. In the “Historical Notes” section at the end, she mentions the places where she has deviated from the actual accounts for the sake of the story.
As this book is the second installment of the series, the reader might struggle to grasp the previous occurrences. However, Schrader uses the prologue to set the background by divulging all the necessary information. With this preliminary idea, it was easy to follow the course of the story. Also, considering the number of characters present, this novel requires undivided attention from the reader. Fortunately, Schrader demonstrates the ability to hold her readers captive. The entire book felt like an elaborate game of chess, with numerous battle strategies and counterstrategies. The suspense was so palpable at times that I found myself holding my breath. I never thought history could be this interesting until Schrader proved it.
The thorough detailing of the rituals and customs transports the reader to middle age Jerusalem. A life among gallant knights, purebred horses, eager squires, and mild-mannered ladies seems all too real. This authentic medieval setting is further strengthened by the glossary that explains unfamiliar terms to modern readers.
The major characters were admirable. The just and honorable John d’Ibelin was one of my favorites. Sir Balian d’Ibelin’s love and devotion for his wife set his character apart. With her wisdom, grace, and gentle personality, Lady Eschiva soon became my personal favorite. All the Ibelins harbor a deep love and sense of duty for Beirut and its inhabitants. Very often, this profound love for their country directly interfered with their personal lives. Seeing them struggling with the dilemma reminded me that these characters were indeed real.
History generally recounts the great battles fought between kings. The accounts are often skewed in the direction of noblemen and influential personalities. Schrader broke this norm by including not only the perspectives of the king and the knights but also those of the ordinary people. She revealed the brutal face of war and the destruction it leaves in its wake.
I do not have any complaints about this book. The large cast of characters can be daunting at times. However, the readers should keep in mind that each of them represents an indispensable part of the history. From a technical standpoint, a few errors did not detract from the reading experience.
Considering the above-mentioned points, I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. I would suggest this to any reader who enjoys well-researched historical books, especially those concerning the history of the crusades. However, even if someone is not very keen on history, they can simply skip the “Historical Notes” section and still appreciate the story. Naturally, there are quite a few violent scenes in the narrative that sensitive readers might want to avoid.
The Emperor Strikes Back
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