Among the many books that got some attention in the most recent SPFBO, this was one of those that got my ears to prick up. Set in the First Crusade? Hells, yeah! I’m the audience for that! Of course, should go without saying, that means it’s not right for other readers in the broad church of fantasy. If you prefer lots of magic with no connection to a historical period or place, this may not be your bag.
So, starting with the setting, we have the crusaders making their way from Constantinople to the Holy Land. Raymond of Toulouse is one of the 3 pov characters and you have Bohemond and all the gang as well. The characterisation and historical research is excellent. The political manoeuvring of those involved feels so real, as do the military engagements featured, and the desperate hardships of the endeavour. Top notch historical fiction.
Overlying this is the tale of Lukas Bessarion, a Greek noble teenager transported to these events from 7th century Byzantine Empire, where he meets Ayla, a Turkish girl. It’s this storyline that has the magical elements – sorcerers are interested in the outcome of the crusade. The magic is there in the background, but the dish is spiced just right, given the historical element. Initially, I was unsure if I was going to enjoy Lukas and Ayla’s story as much. It has a much more YA feel to it at times than the historical goings on. But I did, and it’s really a testament to the author’s skill and writing chops that she is able to blend so many elements into one novel and keep it as a cohesive whole. I tip my hat to the sheer work that must have gone into this book.
This is the first in a series which features other members of Lukas’ family – perhaps also transported out of time. It seems they are all related, but standalone, in nature.
Anyway, this is the kind of book where you probably know if a medieval historical fiction/ fantasy crossover is something you’ll like. If you’ve been unsure up to now, here’s hoping I’ve convinced you.