3 out of 4 stars
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In the historical fiction read, Envoy of Jerusalem, Helena P. Schrader brings together a story filled with action, treachery, love, and the true effects of war. This is the third installment of the biographical novel about Balian d’Ibelin.
Balian d’Ibelin is like no other. Though he was set free from the surrender of Jerusalem, the strong leader cannot envision himself to give up on the Holy Land that easily. With more determination than ever, he desires the Holy Land be reclaimed to God. But, what holds dear to his heart are the ones he left behind. The tens of thousands of Christians who have become enslaved by the uncaring Sultan Salah ad-Din and his foul and torturous followers, the Saracens. When all seems almost hopeless, the vigorous King Richard, the Lionheart, of England comes to the aid of Jerusalem. Will they be able to reclaim what truly is theirs?
Though this is the third in the series, it could very well be read as a standalone. I was fortunate enough to have read the second one, Defender of Jerusalem, so I already had some prior knowledge of the topic at hand. However, the author provides background information of the previous Crusades that were included in the first two books toward the beginning of Envoy of Jerusalem. In addition, she has done a great job in retelling parts of the previous books during this read without making it seem redundant.
What Schrader does well is bringing her story to life with her beautiful and captivating writing style. As the reader follows several characters’ thoughts, it is easy to feel present in every captivating scene: the fighting, the emotional moments, times of victory, times of loss, and even through the several sieges that took place. My emotions ran high and it was a read that was hard to put down.
Most characters are vividly drawn, as well. I consider Balian and his wife, Dowager Maria Zoe, as the strong ‘power’ couple in this read. The clear love, trust, and open communication they have for one another was probably rare in the twelfth century, but was wonderfully scripted here. Maria is extremely perceptive and will not falter in her thoughts. Knowing this, Balian always asks for her opinions, which is wise since most times, she is correct.
With how much I loved this book, and the previous one, there were a couple of flaws. For one, there were at least a dozen or so errors. In this lengthy book, it may not seem like a big deal, but what really caught my eye is the land of ‘Arsur’ versus ‘Arsuf’. Though not a major setting in the book, it was mentioned several times as one or the other, which was distracting.
Secondly, the various names of people is a bit off-putting. I can understand that those who own land, like barons, may be addressed as the name of their land. For instance, Balian d’Ibelin is referred to both Balian and Ibelin, because he originates and owns Ibelin. I became used to this. However, when the Sultan and his followers first referred to Balian as ‘Ibn Barzan’, I was thrown off. It took me a couple of times in reading this reference to figure out they were speaking about Balian. This happened a few times; one of which, I can still only guess who the Sultan is referring to.
With themes of loyalty, fealty, betrayal, and love, I rate this read a 3 out of 4 stars. It was very captivating, but with the amount of errors and the interchanging of names without explanation, I’m afraid I cannot give it a perfect four-star rating. I do highly recommend this read to those who like to learn more about the Crusades in the twelfth century and do not mind some graphic wartime scenes.
Envoy of Jerusalem
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