Book 1 of the Magdalene Cycle
Baldwin IV is an easy protagonist to admire. He is still a boy when he becomes King of Jerusalem during a turbulent time. Throughout his short life, and through sheer strength of will, he deals with challenges that would test older, healthy men. Baldwin is tormented by his leprosy, and the author graphically describes his worsening condition. Eventually, he comes to terms with his imminent death and even comes to understand why he has been afflicted. He is wise and brave beyond his years, dutiful and serious but occasionally mischievous. In spite of his youth and disease, he leads his armies against the enemy, Salah-ed-Din (Saladin) who is making gains in the Holy Land. In other books of the period I have read, Salah-ed-Din is portrayed as a rather shadowy enemy of the crusaders. In this book, he emerges as a full-bodied character with his own point of view.
In fact, all the main characters are three-dimensional. As Baldwin’s disease progresses, the princes of Outremer jostle to gain an advantage in the next reign. Menace, intrigue, rebellion, magic and the supernatural in the form of Mary Magdalene as an immortal spiritual guide all play a part in this dark tale. I could have enjoyed it more without the magic, but it is an integral part of the story, and I’m sure many other people will enjoy that aspect. The balanced portrayal of the two sides in the struggle is refreshing. The author has added a touch of authenticity by using Arabic names for people and places. This is done from the pov of Salah-ed-Din.
There are a few grammar errors, but nothing too distracting.
© Susan Appleyard
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