As an archaeologist I’m always fascinated by books and authors who dare play with history. Whether it is in fantastical worlds that only draw inspirations from our own, like Tolkien; historical mysteries and conspiracies like those woven by Dan Brown; or those incredible tales set in a more accurate past like Conn Iggulden. No matter what is is – I’ll devour it all, and I encourage any writer who finds themselves drawn to the genre to explore it as widely as they can, regardless of historical accuracy.
Saye has written an extraordinary piece about the Crusades. Though the period is not a personal favorite, I was intrigued by the plot and as soon as I started the book I was eager to read on. We follow Daniel, a thief and a nobody in the streets of Constantinople, who tries to prove himself and rise in the ranks among his fellow criminals. He is seeking a better life for himself and his brother, and he gets it – just not in a way he could ever imagine. Through accident and circumstance he finds himself becoming the page of a knight who is marching for Jerusalem, and Daniel has to learn how to live like a crusader. There’s love, loss, honor, war, and death coming his way – and all of it will shape him and the rest of his life.
Saye’s strengths lie in the incredible attention to detail. Be it the clothing, the food, the weapons, the care for the horses, the flowing descriptions of the landscape surrounding us – it’s all there. It’s one of the things that made me fall in love with George R.R. Martin’s writing ages ago, and it’s had the exact same effect on me here. It creates a very vivid world that sucks you in with ease. I also thoroughly enjoyed the character development of not just Daniel, but those around him. This story isn’t just an A to B trip to retake the Holy Land – it’s about who Daniel is, about his change and who he becomes.
“Brave men die just the same.”
I did occasionally struggle with the way the book is told, because Daniel – our protagonist – actually tells his story to someone else (which is briefly mentioned in the prologue and epilogue). During the book I kept forgetting this, and I felt like he broke the 4th wall and was addressing the reader directly, when he was in fact talking to a character I’d forgotten all about.
But this doesn’t detract from the fact that this is a brilliant, high quality historical fiction, that any reader of the genre will love. I can see these books becoming a long-lived and much-loved series. Hats off to Saye!