Book Commentary/Review – Beloved Pilgrim by Nan Hawthorne April 17, 2011Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, crusades, historical fiction, the crusades, Uncategorized.
Tags: book commentary, book review, books, Crusades, historical fiction, Nan Hawthorne
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Nan Hawthorne’s Beloved Pilgrim dramatizes the events of the crusade of 1101, an unnumbered crusade, following right after the First Crusade (which concluded with the Western Christian capture of Jerusalem in 1099). Hawthorne remains absolutely loyal to the facts of the crusade while her characters bring exotic and fresh angles to the story.
Elizabeth is a young woman with a streak of independence trapped in circumstances incompatible with her feisty nature. She finds herself facing a marriage that will tie her to an unaffectionate brute, a man who has no compunction about using her for his needs, physical and economic, while completely disregarding her feelings and well-being. Her brother is committed to go on the crusade. She has sparred with her brother, so knows the moves of a medieval knight. In fact, she is accomplished enough to compete effectively with him. When he dies of an illness, she takes his place, fleeing her circumstances to join the Christian fighting pilgrimage. Only her squire, the gay lover of her late brother, knows of the deception. Much of the suspense of the novel develops from Elizabeth’s desperate efforts to keep her secret in the midst of the challenging circumstances of an army marching under stress, moving through hostile territory, confronted by strong, dangerous enemies.
Hawthorne also takes us to the exotic court of the Byzantine Empire, dramatizing the quirky mix of Greek/Eastern Christianity into the whole crusading movement. (A Byzantine Emperor’s plea for help triggered the First Crusade, but Byzantine emperors came to regret the Western European rush east this plea triggered, and greeted future expeditions with everything from indifference to outright hostility.) Colorful characters in the Byzantine court mix into the story in unexpected ways, causing Elizabeth to explore her own sexual preference, and creating the possibility that Elizabeth and her companion can have a happy ending regardless of the success or failure of the crusading mission.
Elizabeth’s struggles on the crusade, her battles, her growth and development, and the uncertainty over her ultimate fate, will keep readers enthralled to the end.
Book Commentary/Review – An Involuntary King by Nan Hawthorne February 19, 2011Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, historical fiction, literary commentary, medieval period, Uncategorized.
Tags: book commentary, book review, books, historical fiction, medieval history, Nan Hawthorne
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An Involuntary King, written by Nan Hawthorne, is a rousing, action-packed, epic-scope novel with the historical setting of Eighth Century England, but otherwise populated by fictional characters. The dialogue feels era-appropriate, and Hawthorne offers enough description to pull the reader into the exotic time-and-place, without slowing the momentum of the story. It is a struggle of good characters versus evil characters, with one wild-card character who complicates the story and keeps readers guessing.
The novel starts out with Lawrence, the second son of a king, suddenly thrust onto the throne when both his father and older brother are killed in battle against the king’s usurper brother Nifhmund. Before their deaths, Lawrence’s father tells him to be ready to be king. Lawrence objects to the idea, expressing his preference not to be king, giving us the title of the book. But Lawrence proves to be an excellent king, with the proper combination of strength and compassion. If he has a fault, it is his difficulty seeing evil in others, leading to some of the adversity he faces. His queen, the stunningly beautiful Josephine, rules with him, devoted to him, bearing him children, and supportive of his efforts as king. If she has a fault, it is her underestimation of the effects of her beauty, as her non-romantic kindness and affection is misinterpreted by more than one man during the story, with major effects on events.
King Lawrence faces a succession of truly horrible, brutal villains. As soon as he cleverly dispatches one, he faces others under even more difficult circumstances. The novel pulses with constant action, with battles and other confrontations that bristle with drama and suspense. Adding nuance to the story are peripheral characters like the two roving entertainers, Shannon and Rory, who find what might be a home, and then face losing everything as that home becomes threatened.
About two-thirds through, just when it seems King Lawrence has triumphed over his most difficult challenges yet, he faces the consequences of a scheme to displace him that has been bubbling under the surface of events almost from the beginning. The Queen is held prisoner—the King fights against enormous odds to regain his “involuntary” throne.
As King Lawrence battles Gadfrid, his evil cousin, son of the usurper Nifhmund killed in the battle at the beginning of the story, he faces tough obstacles. We sense that Lawrence will triumph over his evil antagonist. But Elerde, the mercenary, an enigmatic character driven by devotion to Queen Josephine, mixes into events as an independent force, complicating the plot, keeping readers guessing to the end.
An Involuntary King offers an entertaining escape into an exotic, past time-and-place, fun reading for those entertained by rich, epic storytelling.