Shadow of the Swords by Kamran Pasha
Publisher: Washington Square Press (Simon & Schuster, Inc.)
Genre: Historical fiction, Crusades
Trade paperback, 379 pages
Book Source: FSB Associates
My Rating: 80/100
From the Author's website:
An epic saga of love and war, Shadow of the Swords tells the story of the Crusades—from the Muslim perspective.
Saladin, a Muslim sultan, finds himself pitted against King Richard the Lionheart as Islam and Christianity clash against each other, launching a conflict that still echoes today.
In the midst of a brutal and unforgiving war, Saladin finds forbidden love in the arms of Miriam, a beautiful Jewish girl with a tragic past. But when King Richard captures Miriam, the two most powerful men on Earth must face each other in a personal battle that will determine the future of the woman they both love—and of all civilization.
This is a story abut the Crusades from the Muslim point of view. A point of view which sadly, I have not read about until now. "History is written by the victorious" or more accurately written by the English speaking, Roman Catholic Western world. This would explain why most stories and movies of the Crusade represent the English point of view. At a very basic level, the Crusades are about three faiths, Roman Catholicism, Muslim, and Judaism, all fighting for the right to control and worship in Jerusalem. This city has special significance for all three faiths, and since no one can come to terms with this city being shared, there is always the chance of upheaval and strife.
There are three characters in this story who represent each of the faiths, Richard the Lionheart as Catholic, Saladin as Muslim, and Miriam, a fictional woman representing Judaism. You can not write about the Crusades without thinking or bringing religion into the picture, and I think Pasha does a good job avoiding the religious landmines and walking that fine line. Pasha does have history on his side, even though it is a history most people don't know about.
History and/or Hollywood tells us that Richard the Lionheart was a very chivalrous, romantic, jovial, fun-loving, sweetheart kind of guy. Books and other entertainment have only helped to cement this persona. In reality, Richard is a ruthless, blood thirsty, glory seeking, SOB. He had his reasons, and the author gives us that background when he introduces Richard. However, in my eyes this does not excuse his brutal behavior. That is the way Richard is portrayed in this book and its true. If you don't believe me, do some research and you will see. The History Channel also has an excellent special about the true Robin Hood and the Lionheart "myth" is included in the discussion.
Miriam, one of the other major characters in this story, is an intelligent, beautiful Jewish woman, who does her own thing and apparently turns every man on his head. They just seem to fall in love with her as soon as they lay eyes on her. Can you tell I'm not impressed? Miriam is a fictional character, and I understand the need or idea to include a feminine lead and love story. Spices up an otherwise manly story, and includes the third faith that holds Jerusalem dear. Although she possess some good qualities, Miriam was a bit too condescending for me.
The other major player in the Crusades was Saladin. He was by far, my favorite character. I think in the end he was the reason why I wanted to read this book. I wanted to learn more about him and what made him tick. I did get a sense of Saladin and the kind of person he was. Saladin was a fierce fighter on the battlefield but dispensed justice even handedly. He looked at both sides of a situation and tried to judge right and true. Saladin was fighting to protect his people, and felt that all men regardless of religion, were equal in God's eyes. Saladin was the epitome of chivalry whereas Richard was not. Funny, no?
Overall I had a tough time with this book due to Richard's behavior and my eventual dislike for Miriam. This book started out great, but all of the crazy bloodshed was too much for me. I know the Crusades were brutal and major atrocities were committed, I just didn't want to read about it so much. I was much more interested in Saladin and his point of view. I ended up reading the first half of the book and skimmed the rest. I would still like to find out more about Saladin and will search out some reading material about him. Although I wasn't crazy about this book, I still plan on reading Pasha's first book, Mother of All Believers. It has been sitting on my shelf since last year and I have yet to get to it. Pasha's writing is very descriptive and he evoked emotions in me with his characters, whether I liked them or not. Pasha made me think and see the Crusades from the other point of view and I appreciate that.
My Rating: 80/100. I'm torn on this because I half liked it, however I did skim the second half the book, and that can never be very good.
Thank you to Julie from FSB Associates for my review copy.
2010 Challenges Met: 100+, Historical Fiction
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