Thursday, January 2, 2020

Review: The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Kay Penman

31568110Synopsis: 1172. The Kingdom of Jerusalem, also known as 'Outremer', the land beyond the sea. Outremer was a young realm, one baptized in blood when the men of the First Crusade captured Jerusalem from the Saracens in 1099. Those crusaders who stayed had to adapt to an utterly new world, a land of blazing heat and exotic customs and enemies who were also neighbors.

Balian d'Ibelin had long enjoyed a relationship of mutual respect with Saladin. But Saladin was set upon taking Jerusalem by storm, seeing it as a blood debt, retribution for the massacre in 1099. Defeating Saladin would have been a challenge for any king, but while Baldwin IV was intelligent, educated, charismatic, courageous, and dedicated to the welfare and protection of his people, he was also doomed by his affliction with leprosy. However, he fought his disease as fiercely as he fought the Saracens, though, and when he learned that Saladin was planning to invade Outremer, he won a remarkable victory over a much larger Saracen army at Montisgard in 1177; Saladin himself barely escaped capture. Balian took part in that battle, too, for he was loyal to his young, dying king. Eventually, Balian's finest hour would come, for he convinced Saladin to accept a peaceful surrender . . .

This is my style of book - my favourite period in history - characters I am well familiar with - an author whose works I love. What more could I want! 

This is the fictional account of the reign of Baldwin IV of Jerusalem - also known as the Leper King. Baldwin's reign coincided with the period that fell in between the Second and the Third Crusades, and encompassed such events as the fall of Edessa, the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin, the defeat of the Crusader King at the Battle of Hattin, and the lead up to the Siege of Acre.

Baldwin succeeded his father when aged 13yo. Despite the young king’s extraordinary fortitude, his precarious health necessitated continuous regencies and created a problem of succession until his sister Sibylla bore a son, the future Baldwin V, to William of Montferrat. Sibylla's subsequent marriage in 1180 to Guy de Lusignan, a newcomer to the East and brother of Amalric, accentuated existing rivalries between the barons. A kind of “court party”—centring around the queen mother, Agnes of Courtenay, her daughter Sibylla, and Agnes’s brother, Joscelin III of Edessa, and now including the Lusignans—was often opposed by another group comprising mostly the so-called native barons—old families, notably the Ibelins, Reginald of Sidon, and Raymond III of Tripoli. In addition to these internal problems, the kingdom was the most isolated ever. Urgent appeals to the West and the efforts of Pope Alexander III had brought little response.

Baldwin IV died in March 1185, leaving, according to previous agreement, Raymond of Tripoli as regent for the child king Baldwin V. But when Baldwin V died in 1186, the court party outmaneuvered the other barons and, disregarding succession arrangements that had been formally drawn up, hastily crowned Sibylla. She in an extraordinary turn of events, crowned her husband, Guy of Lusignan. Such was the political status of the Crusader States.

Penman's story focuses on one of the many extraordinary real-life characters of this period - Balian de Ibelin, Lord of Ramla - whose family was one of the most prominent in the Crusader Kingdom. She also breathes new life into many others, especially Agnes de Courtenay, who was often hard done by many past historians.

Fans and history buffs will appreciate the Epilogue and the Author's Notes at the end.

The Crusader period is fast becoming the new setting for many a work of historical fiction. And if the reader is interested, I would suggest following up the authors listed below:

see also my following blog posts:

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