I have read a number of Ben Kane’s novels and enjoyed them all. Having met Ben during a book-signing for Eagles at War, he then spent several minutes offering me valuable advice for my own nascent attempts to become an author and was a thoroughly pleasant chap. So, you would think I would be pre-disposed to like his latest work, wouldn’t you? Well, I was, and I did. It is another Ben Kane classic.
Crusader follows hard on the heels of its predecessor – Lionheart – continuing the story of Richard, Coeur de Lion, now King of England. As before, the action is narrated by Ferdia O Cathain (known to his Norman lords as Rufus (presumably due to trouble pronouncing his Irish name).
Fiercely loyal to Richard, Ferdia nevertheless remains torn; he hates the Normans for their ravaging of his ancestral home in Leinster and the killing of his kin. He yearns for a time when he can return home to claim his inheritance; a claim which he hopes Richard himself will one day grant him as a reward for his faithful service.
In the meantime, however, there is the small matter of the Third Crusade to see to. But not only does Ferdia have to deal with hordes of ‘the accursed race’ led by the charismatic, yet brutal, Salah-al-Din, but he is also beset with problems of his own. Not only does he have to fend off the enmity of Robert FitzAldelm (brother to the man he killed in Lionheart), but he also falls for King Richard’s sister (Queen Joanna), a relationship that is doomed to failure due to the gulf in station between them, and one which – if made known to Richard – could see him exiled or worse. With the searing heat of Outremer and the constant threats of attack and disease, Ferdia has his work cut out to keep himself and his king alive.
Those that know Ben Kane’s work will recognise him, first and foremost, as an author who writes about the Roman period. This Lionheart series, therefore, marks something of a departure for him, but it is one which he has taken to with aplomb.
Skills that he has honed to perfection in previous works are used to great effect here. Untold hours of research have helped to recreate a world known only in passing to most people. The barrenness of the landscape, the climate and the insanity of trying to fight in that heat while dressed in padded gambesons and iron-ring hauberks are made real in all their sweat-stained horror. And then there is the fighting.
From a historical perspective, Richard is a complex character, more nuanced than the traditional view of being a good king compared to his brother, John, who followed him. But whatever the truth, there is no doubting that Kane has done a brilliant job in bringing him to life for his readers. God’s legs! He almost literally jumps off the page, screaming at you to follow him into battle. Dex Aie!
Paul Bernardi is the author of the Huscarl Chronicles series dealing with the Norman Conquest and its aftermath. His latest novel is Blood Price.