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Welcome to the Outremer, where fealties are solemn, rivalries deadly, and intrigue is served up daily along with the wine. Here, well-connected women are worth their weight in gold, and the rules of primogeniture, along with the whims of a king or mandates from the Church can determine a person’s fate.
In Balian d’Ibelin: Knight of Jerusalem (Book 1 of the Jerusalem Trilogy), Helena P. Schrader has re-created people, places, and events in the latter 12th-century kingdom of Jerusalem for the reader’s edification and enjoyment. With an elegance of language, detail, and setting rivaling that of Doctorow’s Jazztime, or Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Schrader takes the reader on location to savor the world of Balian d’Ibelin in the times before he emerged as a pivotal player in the politics of the Crusader states.
Young Balian d’Ibelin, while possessing the pedigree, social graces, and knightly skills of one raised to rule, has few prospects when his eldest brother, Hugh, dies unexpectedly. Although Hugh’s stated desire that the Lordship of Ibelin title and holdings go to Balian, they fall to Balian’s next older brother, Barry, through rights of succession.
Barry, Lord of Ramla, offers Balian only the position of Constable of Ibelin. Rather than accept this powerful, but subservient post, Balian seeks a future serving Amalric, the King of Jerusalem. The king, who owes Hugh a debt of honor, proffers a court position with some risk—tutor his son Baldwin in the arts of horsemanship, swordsmanship, and sport, as the debilitating infirmity of leprosy, has put the boy behind in this training.
Accepting this offer moves Balian into the spheres of William, the Archdeacon of Tyre, Baldwin’s academic tutor, and Queen Maria Comnena, the boy’s young, educated, and savvy step-mother, people destined to be essential parts of his life.
When Amalric dies young, and Balian swears fealty to Baldwin as the new king, the die is cast. While honoring his oath, he earns the love of the queen, experiences the power of commitment, and learns the cost of honor.
Balian d’Ibelin: Knight of Jerusalem (Book 1 of the Jerusalem Trilogy) is a joy to read. As in all of Schrader’s novels, the forward to this story is a must-read that serves to ground the reader in the time, place, and cultural multiplicities of the period. By interpreting, hypothesizing, and imagining motivations, actions, conversations, and events that may have occurred as Balian stepped forward into his future, Schrader has turned a narrow slice of history into a panoramic virtual reality that will surely delight fans of historical biographies and Crusader states – and give us something to look forward to in the release of books 2 and 3.
Readers, brew a pot of tea and snuggle in, for Helena P. Schrader has cast her spell of intrigue and sent her invitation wide. In other words, prepare to get hooked!