Birth of the Kingdom

Written by Jan Guillou
Review by Lucille Cormier

It is the year 1192 when the legendary crusader, Sir Arn Magnusson, returns from Outremer with a string of Arabian horses, builders, engineers, and physicians from the East as well as a fortune in gold – a gift from Saladin. He arrives with a vision of a united kingdom, where the Nordic clans may live in harmony, safe from foreign invasion. Sir Arn will set about building walled cities and training young warriors to fight using techniques learned from his Arab opponents. When the inevitable invasions from Denmark come, Sir Arn’s fighting force performs brilliantly and his vision is near to being realized.

Birth of the Kingdom is also a love story, for Arn’s return from Outremer is also the termination of 20 years of penance imposed on him and his betrothed, Cecilia, who, as young lovers in a moment of passion, conceived a son. Thus, while Arn fought Saracens, Cecilia, banished to a convent, learned to use the abacus and manage accounts. Over the years Arn and Cecilia’s love never faltered, and in spite of political pressures to marry out of their clan, they are finally united. The union flourishes in every way.

Birth of the Kingdom should be read as one of Sweden’s founding myths. Arn Magnusson is a hero worthy of the role – a strong, noble warrior, bigger than life, prudent, wise, faithful, and pious who pours his fortune – literally and metaphorically – into building the new nation. The author covers an immense field of historical information in this epic but maintains a steady pace, keeping the reader’s interest all the while. Ancient folk customs are woven seamlessly into descriptions of clan rivalries, gripping battle scenes, and moments of quiet humor. Truly an excellent read.