Arise Crusader: Book I of the Lotharingian Chronicles

Written by Val Jensen II
Review by Thomas j. Howley

1096 France: young ploughman Anseau of Valois’ rustic but comfortable life is ripped asunder when it becomes known that he loves a local Jewish girl, Channah. On both sides, such a relationship is condemned. A fascinating character who is a friend of Anseau’s father and a warrior bishop of the church intercedes and offers the boy salvation if he will come to the bishop’s abbey and train to become a knight in service to the Lord. Anseau, though never giving up on seeing his love again, meets every challenge and is knighted in a lavish religious ceremony. To gain salvation and please the bishop, the newly minted warrior joins a dubious hermit monk and thousands of other Christian soldiers as well as vulnerable women and children on a crusade to Jerusalem.

Nothing goes right, as tragic pogroms against Jews, internecine bloodshed among various Christians, and primitive national politics work against the common cause. Somehow, Anseau wins through the turmoil to finally confront the Saracens and gain a chance to be reunited with Channah.

This first book in The Lotharingian Chronicles is a sweeping epic rooted in the tumultuous history of the times. The author presents the horrendous treatment of Jews by some Christians and the kindness they receive from others, the gruesome and blood-splattering violence of medieval combat, and the complicated relationships among the various nations and ethnic groups in vivid detail. Because of these diverse players, it would have been beneficial to provide the reader with more historical context on the various players and nations. Bulgars, Byzantines, Hungarians, and Pechenegs all make fascinating appearances. Still, this superb novel is my favorite type of illuminating and informative historical fiction, and the ambiguous ending presages more intrigue and stirring adventures to come. Strongly recommended.