Publisher: Orion (Trade Paperback – 27 April 2021)
Series: Lionheart – Book Two
Length: 393 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Impressive historical fiction author Ben Kane returns with the second entry in his Lionheart series, Crusader, which does an amazing job of continuing the epic story of King Richard the Lionheart.
KING. POLITICIAN. WARRIOR. CONQUEROR.
1189. Richard the Lionheart’s long-awaited goal comes true as he is crowned King of England. Setting his own kingdom in order, he prepares to embark on a gruelling crusade to reclaim Jerusalem.
With him on every step of the journey is Ferdia, his loyal Irish follower. Together they travel from southern France to Italy, to the kingdom of Sicily and beyond.
Finally poised to sail to the Holy Land, Richard finds a bitter two-year-long siege awaiting him. And with it, the iconic Saracen leader responsible for the loss of Jerusalem, Saladin.
No one can agree who should fill the empty throne of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and Saladin’s huge army shadows Richard’s every move. Conditions are brutal, the temperatures boiling, and on the dusty field of Arsuf, the Lionheart and his soldiers face their ultimate test…
Kane has produced another amazing novel in the Lionheart trilogy. While Kane is best known for his incredible Roman historical novels, I have been particularly enjoying his compelling foray into medieval fiction with this outstanding series that examines the life of King Richard the Lionheart. Told through the eyes of fictional character Ferdia, better known as Rufus, the first novel in this series, Lionheart, did a remarkable job of covering some of the most influential younger years of Richard’s life, which cumulated in him seizing the throne. Crusader continues this epic retelling of Richard’s life by recounting the events that occurred as Richard led his forces on a bloody journey to the Holy Land.
Crusader contains a historically rich narrative that explores one of the most iconic periods of Richard’s life, the crusades. Kane produces a very detailed story that focuses on the journey to the east as well as the battles in the Holy Land. This includes the army’s stops in Sicily and Cyprus, where Richard was forced into conflict with other Christian rulers, before eventually arriving in the Holy Land and engaging in his legendary conflict with Saladin. Kane attempts to cover every major battle of this Crusade, with several sieges, large-scale attacks, skirmishes and the infamous massacre at Acre. At the same time, Rufus continues his deadly rivalry with the dishonourable knight Robert FitzAldelm, while also secretly engaging in a very risky romance.
This proves to be a very compelling story, and I very much enjoyed seeing this detailed portrayal of this legendary crusade. Kane does a wonderful job of bringing all the dry historical facts to life throughout Crusader, and I found it fascinating to see his take on the entire journey and eventual battles with Saladin’s forces. While the story does occasionally get a bit bogged down in medieval politics, royal disputes and petty squabbles, Kane keeps the novel going at decent pace, and the reader is treated to several epic and dangerous fight scenes. The author can write a deeply impressive and thrilling battle sequence, and the reader is left on the edge of their seats multiple times, especially as the various characters you come to care about find themselves in utter peril. I also enjoyed the bitter conflict that occurred between the non-fictional Rufus and his rival, FitzAldelm. While not as prominent as in the first book, this rivalry is still a fantastic part of the book, especially as it adds an intrigue-laden edge to the main story. While I really enjoyed this great novel, I do think that it suffered a little being the middle novel in the series, primarily because certain overarching conspiracies and plots are put on hold because of the crusade. I also felt the first half of the novel was a little slow in places, especially when compared to the intense second part of Crusader. Still, this was a pretty amazing story, and I loved how the author managed to ensure that his tale contained both excitement and fascinating historical fact.
Just like in the first novel in this series, Kane spends considerable time examining the complex historical figure of Richard the Lionheart. In this book, Richard is portrayed as a multifaceted and intense being with a wide range of emotions and moods. Most of the story focuses on the classic King Richard, the inspirational and personable figure that the protagonist Rufus eagerly vows to follow. This includes multiple portrayals of Richard’s prowess in combat, especially in the Holy Land where he leads his troops to many great victories. The author features several intense battles throughout the book where Richard either lead the charge or proved to be something more than human, such as fighting through a superior forces or chasing off an entire army by himself. I initially assumed that Kane was taking a bit of artistic licence with some of these outrageous scenes, but it turns out that most were based on real historical accounts. While I found these epic depictions of Richard to be cool, I also appreciated the way in which Kane tries to show the king’s darker side. There are multiple scenes that portray Richard in a despondent mood, especially when faced with setbacks or betrayals, and this low mood could often transform into a dangerous anger at a drop of a hat. This makes for a very complex and contrary portrayal, and I really appreciated the way in which Kane attempted to examine the true mind and thoughts of Richard, as seen by his closest friend.
It was also really interesting to see the continued growth of Rufus throughout Crusader, as he keeps moving away from the helpless Irish hostage he was at the start of the series, and is now a knight and close companion to the King. Rufus goes through a lot in this novel, and it was fascinating to see how he deals with the horrors and dangers of the war around him. I found his description and concern about the massacre of Acre to be particularly intense, and it was interesting to see him witness such an event while remaining loyal and dedicated to Richard. Rufus’s rivalries and loves were a major focus of this novel, and it is clear that Kane is setting up something major with them for the final novel. It was also intriguing to see the changes occurring with additional fictional character Rhys, Rufus’s squire and close confidant, who has accompanied the protagonist on all his adventures. Rhys, after killing a vicious knight in the first book, has become a little bloodthirsty, and is constantly seeking to prove himself in combat, much to Rufus’s concern. I really enjoyed the inclusion of these fictional characters amongst the more historically accurate tale of Richard’s campaigns, and it serves as a great narrative device, while also adding in some additional drama and conflict. I am very curious about how Rufus and Rhys’s stories will end in the final book, although I am not expecting a happy ending.
Overall, Crusader was a pretty amazing historical novel that presented a detailed and captivating picture of King Richard’s crusades. Loaded up with some excellent portrayals of historical events and a series of epic battles, Crusader will appeal to a wide range of historical fiction fans, and readers will have an outstanding time digging through Kane’s captivating text. A clever and intriguing novel, I am very keen to read the final entry in this series next year, especially as we all know how dark the final chapters of King Richard’s story are.