It is 1096, at the time of the First Crusade. The young hero, Theobald, is off to liberate Jerusalem from the Turks. He has just been knighted, and is honourable, loyal, and courageous. Other main characters are Amalric, another young knight, and Emma, a poor relation, whose dark hair and eyes fascinate Theo from the moment he sees her. And there is Guy, Amalric's cousin, whom Theo defeated in his first joust. The foreshadowing of the developing bond of friendship between Theo and Amalric, the growing love of Theo for Emma, and Guy's desire for revenge against Theo are stories that unfold as the bloody battles of the Crusade take them further along on their journey to Jerusalem.
The beginning of each chapter has a map that illustrates where the Crusaders are on their journey. The opening paragraph gives the reader updated information as to the time that has elapsed, and the setbacks and successes of the crusade. For example in chapter twelve, the map indicates that they are in Antioch, and the opening paragraph begins: "It did not snow in Antioch, but the rains set in just after Christmas....Weak from hunger and taken by surprise, the crusaders were badly beaten." The rest of that chapter deals with the lives of Theo, Amalric, Guy, and Emma in the midst of the battles that each one fights.
The story is told from an objective observer's viewpoint, which gives the reader a sense of detachment from what the characters are thinking and feeling. Perhaps if it were told in first-person narrative, or third-person viewpoint, I would have felt more empathy for the young heroes, but as it was I did not really care what happened to them. At times the story moved slowly, and lacked the feeling of danger or excitement inherent in battle. I did not care if they won or lost their battles, either!
This might appeal to readers in grades four to six. The prologue gives them enough background information on the crusades to be able to follow the story. It is simple in plot and characters, as well as vocabulary and sentence structure. l
Susan Charron is a grade eight English teacher, with a reading specialist diploma from the University of Toronto. She has an unusually fine classroom collection of Y.A. novels.