Thursday 6 April 2017

Discovering Diamonds review of ENVOY of JERUSALEM by Helena P. Schrader

Amazon UK £6.38 £15.99
Amazon US $7.81 $22.95
Amazon CA $28.79

The Jerusalem Trilogy.
    Knight of Jerusalem
      Defender of Jerusalem
        Envoy of Jerusalem

‘Balian has survived the devastating defeat on the Horns of Hattin, and walked away a free man after the surrender of Jerusalem, but he is baron of nothing in a kingdom that no longer exists. Haunted by the tens of thousands of Christians now enslaved by Saladin, he is determined to regain what has been lost. The arrival of a vast crusading army under the soon-to-be-legendary Richard the Lionheart offers hope - but also conflict, as natives and crusaders clash and French and English quarrel.’
This novel, third of a trilogy,  is written in an alternative style that is not usual for a novel, in that the point of view frequently interchanges, sometimes seeing a scene from the view of several protagonists at the same time, like a scene from a movie where the goodie frowns as the baddie grins and the love interest gasps. If this style is OK for you – and judging by Amazon reviews Ms Schrader has a following of readers who are OK with it – then you'll love this novel.

For me though I felt very much that, without the consistent insight from a single character's point of view per scene, the focus was lost and I couldn't get to know anyone with the depth I wanted and usually expect from a novel. Even in a film, if all you get is reaction and counter reaction, it slips into melodrama. You need to sit inside or alongside a character to get to know them, but being constantly ripped from one to another rather spoilt that comfortable feeling of intimacy.

This is a pity because  Ms Schrader has researched a great deal, possibly too much as she occasionally adds footnotes which rarely sit well in novels, and can come across as over-information, rather than letting the narrative flow naturally and then add an Author's Note for the history behind the fiction. The author clearly knows her stuff, but authors of historical fiction, where the history tends to take precedence over the fiction, must be careful of not coming across as over-confident with their wish to show how much they know. Facts of knowledge gained belong in non-fiction, the entertainment of the story belongs in fiction.

All this detracts from what Ms Schrader really excels at - descriptive prose. The passages that are classic literature are glorious and vivid, detailed so highly that you are put right into the places she writes about. The Holy Land and the complex politics become accessible to those who have not studied it, and despite this being the third part of a series there is plenty to allow you to read this as a stand alone novel; you are given enough to interpret what is going on, but you feel like you are observing someone else's drama.

I compare this novel to films a few times as I get the impression that this is a corrective novel to counter the inaccuracies and not-very-goodness of Kingdom Of Heaven, even down to the cover which is a somewhat poor representation of Orlando Bloom. Does this also, perhaps, explain the ‘cinematic treatment’ of the novel? A retaliation to the movie by setting the history straight? A fine enough reason, but perhaps at the expense of the fictional prose?

To summarise, Ms Schrader has a unique and compelling talent. However the framework is somewhat askew. As an indie writer she has done well but if she were to employ the services of an experienced editor who knows this era, who was able to bring out the best in the novel, sort out the point of view changes and enhance the author’s skills, well, the sky's the limit…

© Louise Adam
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