Going into this novel I was ignorant of the historiography of the Crusades, except for a cursory peek of it from romanticized movies like “Ivanhoe” and “El Cid” that I watched in my school days. A quick search on the internet indicates that the history stretched from the First Crusade (1095 – 1099) – a military expedition to rescue the weakening Byzantine Empire, to the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the 17th century. Essentially, the military conflicts were religion-based (Christianity versus Muslim) and about territorial control.
This novel is set prior to and during the Battle of Hattin which took place on July 4, 1187 (roughly between the Second and Third Crusade), near the city of Tiberias (of present-day Israel) on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Opposing forces were the Crusader states of present-day Syria and the Muslim army led by Salah-adin, the Arabic sultan.
The story follows a ten-year-old orphan of mixed parentage through his adventures when he accidentally gets caught up in an espionage conspiracy on the eve of a decisive battle between Christian and Muslim states. Through his adolescent eyes, we get to sense, smell and listen to the everyday life in Acre, the melting pot of different cultures, in particular the life of the destitute underclass. The author’s sense of humor keeps the dark tone from getting too dark.
Overall, it was an entertaining read, but for my taste, the historical background could’ve used a little more rigorous treatment. I’m giving this novel 3.7 stars, rounding up to 4.