Crusade Hardcover – Jun 8 2007
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About the Author
Elizabeth Laird has been nominated four times for the Carnegie Medal and has won both the Smarties Prize and the Children's Book Award. She and her husband divide their time between Richmond, Surrey and Edinburgh.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I enjoy reading historical fiction--the human story is great, and you get the added bonus of learning a bit of history too. The story is written from the boys' perspective, but has interesting adult characters as well: and my daughter, an avid reader, also enjoyed it. The timeless themes of family, friendship and the humanity of war are well thought out by the writer. It portrays an adequate representation of the times: both the good and bad.
It is too bad that this type of literature is not more widely available to our children. This book talks honestly to them, about people who are different, but maybe not so, .. and about tough situations people get into by circumstance and by history. It does not talk down to them, or spare them some of the realities of life; and, while there is warfare, it is neither gory nor sugar-coated. This was the essence of its appeal to my son.
I highly recommend this book.
Salim is a young merchant's son who is horrified to hear his father offer him as an apprentice to an old Jewish doctor so that he might escape the Crusader army bearing down on Acre. Under the tutelage of the cantankerous but good-hearted Doctor Musa, Salim begins to learn the art of medicine. On the way to Jerusalem the two of them are commandeered by the army to treat the great Saladin himself, and Salim finds himself in the Saracen camp perched above the city of Acre, knowing that his family is still inside as the Frankish siege begins.
On the other side of the world, Adam is bereft when his mother dies of a wasting illness without having received a last confession. Given a position as dog-boy at the local lord's estate, Adam jumps at the chance to join the Crusade so that he might secure the salvation of his mother's soul. Along with a great number of knights and retainers, Adam follows Lord Guy de Martel across the seas to the Holy Land, ready to do battle against the heathens and liberate Jerusalem from their control.
Divided into two, the first part of the book is made up of chapters that alternate between the points of view of the two very different boys. There is slight confusion here, as Adam's narrative takes place over an extended period of time compared to Salim's condensed experiences. Thanks to this disjointed timeline it becomes jarring every time Adam's narrative interrupts Salim's, as the former's chapters stretch out over several weeks, and the latter's pick up again only a few days, or even hours, after they left off.
However, once the second part of the book begins, the boys' concurrent storylines begin to knit together more fluidly. Set in the two-year span between the start of the crusading army's long journey to Acre to the fall of the city approximately a year later, the book deals with events on both a personal and political level. Against the backdrop of invasion, both Salim and Adam make both friends and enemies among their own people, and are forced to rely on their wits to survive in extraordinary circumstances.
After a chance meeting puts the boys in each other's orbits they find that they share a strange affinity with one other, something that blossoms into a brief and fragile friendship and forces each of them to question the social prejudices they've been raised with. Both are likeable boys, and Laird keeps them as products of their time even as she allows them to grow and mature, guided by several wise and sympathetic adults that open their eyes to the world around them. During the course of the story both boys are witness to loved ones being placed in terrible danger, and each must take a leap of faith on the goodwill of the other to help them save a life, leaving a permanent impression on one another's psyche in the process.
Ending on an appropriately thoughtful and haunting note, "Crusade" is notable for its fair and balanced portrayal of both sides of the conflict. Neither Frank nor Saracen holds the monopoly on righteousness, and yet Laird doesn't shy away from the fact that both sides believe that they are irrefutably correct in their actions. Only through the boys do we see the true shades of grey that are at work in the world.
With the exception of the time discrepancy in the first half of the book, "Crusade" is an exceptionally well structured book, with accurate research on the time period, historical context, and customs of the people involved. Promoting tolerance and clear-thinking can only be a good thing, and by presenting them in a suspenseful and moving story, "Crusade" becomes a must-read for young readers.
Elizabeth Laird does a wonderful job of creating a sense of place in this narrative, and I found myself imagining all the hot arid dustiness, the filth and disease as well as the mre salubrious settings for this book. She also spends a lot of time on the history, and to my inexpert but not totally uninformed point of view, it all seemed spot on.
None of that would matter if the story was lifeless though. Fortunately this book delivers on that score too, and was enjoyable, with plenty to keep the reader interested, including treachery, love, battles and such like. It was perhaps not the best story I have ever read, and for that reason I give it 4 stars. The target young adult audience can enjoy this book very much, but not all would necessarily make their way through it. All the same it rewards everyone who does, being a great story that finishes well and good history too.
Just occasionally I felt that modern attitudes maybe coloured the thought processes of the characters in the books - but that would probably help young adults to enjoy it, rather than hindering.