4 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
Envoy of Jerusalem (subtitled Balian d'Ibelin and the Third Crusade) is the second novel by Helena P. Schrader that I have read, and it is a wonderful book. This novel follows Balian d'Ibelin and a host of other characters in the Holy Lands as they try to recapture cities and strongholds that have been taken by Salah ad-Din, Sultan of Egypt and Damascus. Richard I (known as the Lionheart) is an important presence in the novel, as well as a great number of diverse historical figures. Schrader sticks closely to historical fact - something which her PhD in history qualifies her to do - while weaving in fiction when necessary. For this masterful blend of fact and fiction, the thrilling plot, and Schrader's creation of brilliantly believable characters, I rate Envoy of Jerusalem a flawless 4 out of 4 stars.
The main plot follows Balian d'Ibelin, who features in all three of Schrader's novels in "The Jerusalem Trilogy". Though Envoy of Jerusalem is the third in the trilogy, it reads perfectly well as a standalone novel. I have not yet read the first two books, but had no difficulty understanding the plot. Schrader cunningly weaves in any essential background detail during the action of the novel. Balian is a brave and generous knight who is often faced with difficult choices and challenges. He is an attractive and balanced character, who always chooses the best thing for the people of the land rather than his own selfish gain. He is complemented by his powerful wife and erstwhile Queen of Jerusalem, Maria, who is a focal point for many of the different subplots. Her daughter, Isabella, also features strongly: she is a young princess who learns how to negotiate the world of intrigue and betrayal in upper-class medieval society to become Queen of Jerusalem herself.
I was extremely impressed by Schrader's unparalleled skill in capturing a very complex period in history in a manner that is utterly accessible and even addictive. Little-known characters are brought to the reader's attention, and well-known characters are presented in a new light (for instance Richard I is not portrayed as an unflawed hero, but as a brave, brash king who clashes at times with Balian). All facets of life in the Holy Lands are explored: we are given the stories of highborn nobles, lowly slaves, shop owners, priests, nuns, soldiers, troubadours, adults, children, Christians, Arabs, kings, knights and squires. There is really no corner of the kingdom untouched, or any social strata Schrader does not mention. The result is a satisfying sense of a complete society, and a narrative that lives and breathes with authenticity.
Schrader's style is also delightful - she writes with a simple authority that is perfectly suited to the events that unfold. Her engaging prose shies away from flashy effect, but for me this calm narration actually heightened the emotional impact of the distressing scenes of slavery and warfare, as well as making me trust everything that she said. I found the book extremely difficult to put down, and was glad that it stretched to 500 pages. To write a book of that length without ever losing the reader's interest is no mean feat.
The editing of this book was stellar - I spotted three minor typos in total, and none were particularly jarring. The novel is very well put together, with an abundance of supplementary materials, including a glossary, an introduction, maps, and genealogies, which all further bolstered the reliability of Schrader's narrative. I even enjoyed the attractive font, as well as the little motifs of a horsed knight and a shield that headed new chapters or sections. Schrader is an author who is quickly becoming one of my favourites. Her ability in the field of historical fiction is undeniable, and I look forward to reading several of her other novels in the future. I simply cannot find fault with Envoy of Jerusalem and I warmly recommend it to any fans of historical fiction. It is an exemplary book of its kind.
Envoy of Jerusalem
View: on Bookshelves | on Amazon
Like Reuben 92's review? Post a comment saying so!