Envoy of Jerusalem
This is the third in Schrader’s biographical trilogy about Balian d’Ibelin and the death-throes of the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem. Previously Balian has served the leper King Baldwin, fought against Saladin at Hattin, and taken command of the besieged city of Jerusalem. In this volume he is caught up in the new politics of Outremer as Conrad of Montferrat vies with Guy of Lusignan for power. The arrival of Richard the Lionheart and Philip of France further complicates issues, and the narrative continues with the iconic battles and infamous squabbling of the Third Crusade.
The history of Outremer is spectacularly highly coloured without the need for fictional embellishments. Assassinations, defenestrations, child-marriages, plagues, betrayals and annulments abound. Against this backdrop Schrader’s Balian is strikingly normal. In some ways this is to the detriment of the story. He is very much a hero in a modern sense: moderate, balanced, tolerant and humane. His story arc is a little flimsy compared to the big characters and events around him. The chief enjoyment is therefore in cameos – Richard and in particular his sister Joan always glitter and sparkle. This is an old-fashioned style of historical novel. It is not a page-turner, but the history is soundly researched and often extraordinary enough in itself to satisfy the reader.