Devil’s Bargain

Written by Judith Tarr
Review by Ilysa Magnus

It is 1191. Richard the Lionheart is on his crusade to capture Jerusalem and the Holy Land. His arch-enemy, Saladin, uses every scheme to thwart that goal. We’re all familiar with history up to that point.

But that’s where Tarr diverges. While remaining true to historical fact concerning that famous crusade, Tarr introduces us to a cast of characters magical and supernatural – indeed, even the famous Eleanor of Aquitaine has the “power” to see the future, a dark and frightening power. Eleanor’s hopes and dreams for her favorite son are not to be defeated, and so she makes a devil’s bargain with a great sorcerer to ensure Richard’s victory at any cost. The equalizing, positive force, Richard’s half-sister, Sioned, is the illegitimate daughter of Henry II and a Celtic princess. Richard summons her to use her two-fold faery magic not merely to win the Crusade but to save his soul.

Sioned is a delightful character, so imbued with bright light and energy, with love and compassion, that reading this book was a joy. Watching Sioned develop, as her magic shifts and changes and expands, is glorious – and fun! Tarr has the uncanny ability to humanize all her characters: even Richard is so real you can almost reach out and touch him. There is virtually no one insignificant in this book; while Tarr seems to give everyone a starring role, the preconceived notions of how these historical figures will act disintegrate as the actions moves forward.

I really enjoyed this book and recommend it highly.