cover image Jerusalem


Cecelia Holland. Forge, $23.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-312-85956-5

Veteran historical novelist Holland (Pacific Street; The Bear Flag) can be depended on for a rousing story buttressed by assiduous research. In her 21st venture, she applies her considerable talents to the Holy Land and the Crusades. A pair of battles bookend the tale and typify the religious and cultural conflict of the era: the narrative begins with the Christian victory at Ascalon and ends with the Muslim victory at the Battle of Hattin. Protagonist Rannulf Fitzwilliam is a controversial member of the ascetic, courageous Knights of the Temple whose willingness to ignore protocol serves him better in battle than it does in the political intrigue that follows the victory. The issues at hand include negotiating a truce with the Arabs as well as trying to determine the order of succession to the throne of Baudouin, the young Christian king who is beginning to exhibit the terminal effects of leprosy. Among the ambitious players are several other Templar knights and Baudouin's sister, Sibylla, the object of Rannulf's guilt-ridden affection, who marries a French nobleman to gain access to the power of the throne. As the contenders jockey for position, the Christian forces fall into factionalized disarray, leaving them ripe for conquest. The narrative structure may be simple, but Holland's masterful layering of subplots, historical detail and multiple perspectives makes for a great read. (Jan.)