Monday, July 2, 2018

Men of the Cross by Charlene Newcomb

Title: Men of the Cross
Author: Charlene Newcomb
Buy at Amazon
Genre: Historical with romance elements
Series: Battle Scars #1
Length: 355 pages

Two young knights’ journey to war at Richard the Lionheart’s side sweeps them from England to the Holy Land in this historical adventure set against the backdrop of the Third Crusade.

Henry de Grey leaves Southampton in high spirits, strong in his faith and passionate about the mission to take Jerusalem back from Saladin’s army. Stephan l’Aigle’s prowess on the battlefield is well known, as are his exploits in the arms of other men. He prizes duty, honour and loyalty to his king above all else. But God and the Church? Stephan has little use for either.

Henry’s convictions are challenged by loss and the harsh realities of bloody battles, unforgiving marches, and the politics of the day. Man against man. Man against the elements. Man against his own heart. Survival will depend on more than a strong sword arm.

**

What a big, sweeping historical drama! Make no mistake, the Crusades and politics are primary in this book. The timing of the campaign drives the pacing of the story.

The reality of the Crusades must have hit the Crusaders very much like this book hits the reader: This is not what I signed up for, where is God in this endeavor, and why am I shooting at people who aren’t Saracens? It’s the ugly side of an idealistic war.

Against this gritty campaign, we have Henry de Grey, who has God in his heart and believes in the sanctity of what they’re doing, and Stephan l’Aigle, more focused on the practical and political. Becoming lovers works at Henry’s mind, he worries about betraying the greater cause, and Stephen’s more cavalier attitude bothers him. Yet they become partners in bed and on the field.

Richard the Lionheart and his traveling queen Berengaria are here, as are the future Robin Hood and a couple of not-quite-so-merry-and not-yet men. What I loved is that they’re secondary characters in someone else’s story. They add depth and familiarity, not steal the show.

If I wanted total accuracy in all historical details, I’d read non-fiction. Not being a scholar of this period, I’m willing to accept what the author tells me because it’s consistent and it feels right. Maybe that’s truthy rather than truth, but the storytelling carries it. Even if ex-urchins become confidantes of a queen. It’s set up in a way that works, and it kept me reading.

The greater story arc has two more books to carry through, so I was prepared for both the relationship and the war not to resolve by the end of the book, but that’s fine. I’m ready to be transported back to the twelfth century again. 4 marbles

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