Son of Blood
This novel deals with the tangled Italian politics, changing loyalties and ferocious conflicts leading up to the First Crusade: Western Emperor Henry is ambitious and energetic; the Venetians opportunistic, unparalleled seafarers; Byzantium unimaginably wealthy; the Papacy is expert in exercising its privileged authority. But in warfare the invading Normans are unmatched in Italy. The de Hautevilles emerge as supreme, and from that family Robert of Apulia, “The Guiscard,” and his eldest but illegitimate son Bohemond are protagonists in this story. The Guiscard is unequalled as a warrior and a cunning negotiator, but the youthful Bohemond promises to excel in military strategy and rapidly improvised tactics. His father is proud of the boy’s achievements, but he cannot favour his bastard above the legitimate and pious “Borsa” whose mother, the implacable Sichelgaita, deserves a novel of her own; in helmet and mail coat she terrifies everyone, friend or enemy.
Land battles, and especially those at sea or in harbour, are reported with clarity and precision. The author, assured and convincing, is to be congratulated, likewise on the whole background of time and place. He is in control of daunting complexities and situations in constant flux. The novel could have been written as nonfiction without loss of interest and entertainment since its dialogue tends to be measured and sentences long. It is an ideal book for students needing to understand the gritty intransigence of Norman invaders who had so much to gain or lose in that turbulent world.