The 330 or so years of Plantagenet rule is my absolute favourite period of history. The dynasty ruled for longer than any other house and transformed England in many ways. Warrior kings and queens, the Crusades, Magna Carta, the Hundred Years War, and the Wars of the Roses all contributed to laying the foundations of modern day Britain and, to some extent, France. So when the opportunity came to review The White Cross, I signed up straight away.
The White Cross
Blurb: Set in the late twelfth century at the time of King Richard I’s crusade to win back Jerusalem from the Saracens, The White Cross deals with timeless issues. The moralities of warfare and fundamental religion, the abuse of power, the heights of martial fervour and the depths of disillusionment. The writing captures the sights and sounds, the very smells of medieval life. At the novel’s heart is the relationship between Garon and Elise – the story of an arranged marriage which rapidly develops into something deeper. A young husband’s strongly held beliefs are challenged and set him on a long and painful journey to self-realisation. And a woman’s spirit is broken and restored as she battles for recognition and for justice in a brutal man’s world.
About the author: A cousin of the poet, John Masefield, Richard has worked in a variety of spheres – as an actor and an adman, as a care manager and teacher at a school for disabled children, and for many years as a livestock farmer. But always he has returned to writing. He is a regular speaker at literary and reading group meetings. He lives in Tenterden in Kent with his wife, Lee.
You’ll probably remember Richard I from school as Richard the Lionheart. A nickname acquired because he spent the majority of his reign fighting overseas during an era when chivalry and knightly prowess were very much in vogue. Whether that made him a good man and king is highly debatable and this underpins Garon’s journey of self-discovery in the book.
Garon starts out as a naive idealist, eager to do what he thinks is expected of him. But his experiences on Richard’s crusade, and the dawning realisation that his king is very far from the idol he supposed, force him to grow up fast, at times quite painfully.
Visceral descriptions of battles with all their blood, sweat and gore were excellent, although not an easy read. And the infamous massacre of 2,700 Muslim prisoners by Richard’s forces was heartbreakingly well written too. Saladin, the Saracen leader, appears to be a thoughtful, cultured, and intelligent man in comparison with the untrustworthy and vainglorious English king.
At a time when women were viewed as chattels and property, it was also interesting to find some strong female characters like Elise, Countess Isabel, and Khadija in particular.
And, without wanting to give away any spoilers, I loved the Sortilegus chapter. The author makes his views plain for those readers who might not have realised what’s going on with the three different fonts in the book (!)
Would I recommend it?
I must state that I haven’t read the book thoroughly because the publisher only sent out my copy very recently (it arrived just over a week ago). But from what I’ve read so far, I would say it’s a brilliant take on period of history that you may think you know already. A few rather syrupy love scenes aside, the central themes are still as relevant today as they were in medieval times.
Wars of religion are still being waged in what’s now the Middle East and across Europe, albeit with foot soldiers rather than huge armies. Many atrocities are committed daily by those hungry for power in one form or another. And many of us are on journeys to find out who we really are too.
While it’s possible that humans as a species may never change, I did appreciate what Garon comes to realise in the end. So I’ll leave the last words to him: “I’ve learned that life’s a gift we mustn’t squander.”
Many thanks to Love Books Group Tours for organising a copy of The White Cross for me to review. And don’t forget to check out what my fellow Blog Tour reviewers thought of the book too – see below:
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