Alina: A Song For the Telling

Written by Malve von Hassell
Review by Valerie Adolph

Alina and her brother Milos are unhappy teenagers living in Provence late in the 12th century. They decide to join a band of knights, merchants, and pilgrims travelling overland to Jerusalem. After adventures and hardships they had never dreamed of, they arrive in Jerusalem. Alina is appointed companion (make that “spy”) to young Princess Sibylla. Milos is accepted into the retinue of one of the knights.

Alina’s position draws her into the simmering stew of palace politics, and she finds it difficult to trust anyone, least of all her brother Milos who involves her in his questionable conduct. She begins to like Sibylla but finds her behavior erratic and irresponsible. Uncertainties and rivalries come into sharper focus when Alina observes the murder of a palace servant and sees her brother running from the scene.

This young adult novel gives the reader insight into both the rigors of the Crusaders’ overland travel and life in the Christian court in Jerusalem. It teaches about the life of the ordinary pilgrim, knight, or merchant making his way towards Jerusalem through Eastern Europe and the Middle East. It also shows the rich but troubled life of the Christian court where knights may or may not be chivalrous, and kings, queens, and the nobility value their rank and wealth above other concerns.

This thoroughly researched novel is not an easy read. The focus seems to be on teaching about the period rather than transforming it into an enjoyable novel. The first half plods slowly; once in Jerusalem the pace quickens into a number of seemingly unrelated plot points. We are only given a few tantalizing glimpses of Alina’s music. However, this is a sincere attempt to bring the time of the crusades into greater focus.