5/6 On the Bookshelf . . . “Templar Knight,” “Test,” “By Fire, By Water,” “The History of the Early Medieval Siege,” & “Life After Death”

Templar Knight

After reviewing the first in the trilogy from Swedish author Jan Guillou, The Road to Jerusalem, I’m looking forward to this next installment.  Though this new cover style seems to be trying to catch people’s eyes as compared to the first book:

Road to Jerusalem

I’m a relatively recent William Sleator fan, after having him recommended by my wife who read him a lot when she was younger.  I’ve started with some of his older books, but he’s still churning them out, and am looking forward to his latest, Test:

Test

By Fire, By Water

Don’t quite remember where I caught sight of this book, By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan, but it’s his debut novel set in 15th-century Spain about the Inquisition, so very much my type of book.

The History of the Medieval Siege

The next tome in my medieval readings: A History of the Early Medieval Siege, c. 450-1200 (which isn’t due out until October), which will certainly be a fascinating read for me, and serve as some important research for my medieval historical fiction novel, Wyrd.

Life After Death

Last but not least is Life After Death by Alan F. Segal, which I’ve had my eye on for literally years, since its publication in 2004.  The subtitle is: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion.  I simply haven’t been willing to spend the $40 cover price for it, and just this last week received an alert from Powells for a used copy (which looks like new to me) for $15, so snatched it up immediately.  The book will prove to be an interesting read, as well as research for a future book, however, I don’t expect to be reading this one anytime soon, but am happy to finally have it on my shelf.

“The Road to Jersualem” by Jan Guillou (Harpercollins, 2009)

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As a medieval historian and a big fan of historical fiction, family members from Sweden have been telling me for years to learn some Swedish so I can enjoy the fabulous bestselling Crusades Trilogy from Swedish author Jan Guillou.  I still have yet to improve my language beyond basic Swedish, fortunately this isn’t a problem anymore.  The first book in the trilogy, The Road to Jerusalem, which has done very well in Europe also, is now available in English to American readers.

The title may be somewhat of a misnomer, with an emphasis on “road to,” as the main characters never even make it near to the Holy Land.  However as this is a trilogy, readers know they’ll get there eventually.  In this first book, the year is 1150, and readers are introduced to Arn Magnusson, a boy of noble birth who is sent to a cloister where he learns the ways of the church, as well as some expert training in weaponry and horse riding from a master.  Eventually leaving the cloister, Arn is reunited with his family who, expecting a humble monk, find a powerful but pious warrior.  After committing and being charged with a grave sin, he is forced to become a member of the Knights Templar at the end of the book.

On the surface this seems a simple story, and readers may have a little trouble with the many Swedish names and words (a pronunciation guide would’ve been helpful; fortunately I at least know how to sound those foreign letters: å sounds like “awe,” ä with a soft “e” sound like “egg,” ö and ø [ø is the equivalent in the Norwegian and Danish alphabets] have an “er” sound), but Guillou does an incredible job of analyzing and revealing medieval twelfth-century life in Scandinavia.  In the style of Ken Follett’s  Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, Guillou isn’t obvious and overbearing with the history, but reveals it through plot and story, allowing readers to make deductions for themselves.  And for those who’ve seen the Swedish tre kronor or three crown flag and symbol prevalent throughout Sweden, will have their questions answered in The Road to Jerusalem.

Guillou probably could’ve combined the trilogy into once massive book à la Ken Follett, but instead you have a fun trilogy that begins with a strong foundation and background for those not too familiar with the period and area, continuing in the second book, The Templar Knight, due out May 2010.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on June 30th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.