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Review: Jerusalem, by Cecelia Holland


Pages: 405

Original date of publication: 1996

My edition: 1997 (Forge)

Why I decided to read: heard about it through Historical Fiction Online

How I acquired my copy: Amazon, March 2010

Jerusalem is a story of the Knights Templar in the Holy Land in the 1180s. The story centers around Rannulf Fitzwilliam, a Norman knight who, like many of the Templars, has a Past and has come East to do penance. The story is set in and around Jerusalem and Damascus, as the King of Jerusalem struggles to keep the monarchy intact, even as the Saracens threaten to attack from without.

Rannulf isn’t exactly a likeable character—I didn’t like him much, and he wasn’t much liked by his comrades. He’s stoic, almost to the point of coldness, and so he doesn’t often show emotion—and when he does, it almost seems forced. For example, take Rannulf’s attraction to Sibylla—I’m not sure that he’s in love with her so much as in lust, given his past behavior. I liked Stephen a whole lot better, struggling as he does with temptation. Actually both characters struggle with it, but Stephen’s struggle is much greater, because the waters, so to speak, are much more muddy.

The tone of the book, as other readers have mentioned, is grim. There are some fantastic descriptions of the battles the Templars fight in against the Saracens (that scene at the end is one of the most suspenseful battle scenes I’ve ever read), and I always got the sense that disaster was just around the corner, both for the Templars and Jerusalem. As a reader, you really get a “you are there” feeling when you read this book—from the sweat and blood of the battle to the saddle sores, its all in there. The feelings the Christians and Muslims had towards each other are also well depicted. Although I had reservations about the main character of this book, I’d still recommend this one to anyone who’s looking for a good novel about the Crusades and the Knights Templar.

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