defender of jerusalem book coverReviewed by Leigh Adamkiewicz

Based on the true exploits of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, Defender of Jerusalem – by Helena P. Schrader – is an entertaining look into an overlooked piece of history. And it’s about time.

As a history buff, I never quite understood why the crusader’s conquest and temporary rule of Jerusalem wasn’t discussed more. The invading European crusaders were the medieval equivalent of the atom bomb. They influenced – and were influenced by – so many things in the holy city. So it always surprised me that something that big and that influential wasn’t talked about more. The crusader’s time in Jerusalem always seemed to be a foot note. Yes, the Crusades were a Big Thing. Yes, Jerusalem was eventually ‘saved’. Yes, there was a king of Jerusalem for a while. But the kingdom was eventually overthrown, so why talk about it?

Schrader shows us why that line of thinking is wrong. Framing things like an epic fantasy, she uses ‘Jerusalem’ to talk about the politics behind the rule of the holy land. Peace in the Leper King’s time seemed both as possible and impossible as it does today. In the political sphere there is no right answer, but one wrong move can cause the deaths of hundreds. However, King Baldwin’s court isn’t exactly careful with their political maneuvers. Imprudent marriages, forced alliances, rape and plunder, disease and opulence; all of these things are caused – or encouraged – by the king’s increasingly cut-throat court. And in the middle of it all, the great general Saladin keeps fighting to take back control of his homeland.

Jerusalem shoves us into this churning ocean of bloodlines, battles, and conquests. And we are forced to ride things out with the characters as they struggle for status… and survival. It’s a great read.

Admittedly, the book isn’t perfect. Schrader’s dialogue can be a little unpracticed sometimes. Modern ideas and phrases appear in awkward places. There are abrupt and odd patches of violence, which can make certain parts of the narrative seem disjointed. And since we’re not offered a substantial glimpse into the minds of Saladin’s army, the military conflicts seem to boil down to simplistic good vs. evil battles. Spending almost an entire book deep in the pious psyches of our Christian characters can be more than a little exhausting. Especially when the deal Saladin eventually strikes proves that he was far more civilized than his European antagonists.

But that can be forgiven under the weight of Schrader’s sheer enthusiasm for the source material. Schrader keeps us all moving inexorably forward, teasing us with the next bit of royal intrigue or hinting at the next daring feat in battle. Everything is meticulously researched and arranged in such a way that will have the reader biting their nails and wondering what happens next.

Leigh is a fearless writer who never met a genre, subject, or format she didn’t like. She has written professionally for the past six years and enjoys biking, exploring odd corners of Northeast Ohio, and discovering those good books she hasn’t read yet.

Review copy was provided by Helena Schrader.