Heart of the World

Written by Cecelia Holland
Review by Xina Marie Uhl

A disillusioned Templar knight, an orphaned Arab boy, and a traumatized Jewish woman make up the core characters in this action-oriented saga. While the characters share a beginning in the same 13th-century Baghdad household, they are soon torn apart when the Mongols sack the city. The knight and the boy stay together for a brief time, but the woman is captured by the Mongols, who spare her because they believe her to be a Christian.

The title refers to the novel’s location, in the Middle East, where the crossroads of civilizations meet, and includes cities like Baghdad, Acre, Damascus, and Aleppo. Here occurs a collision of peoples: Franks, Mongols, Mameluke warriors, Venetian tradesmen, and others. Surprisingly, the Mongols of this period practiced Christianity, a fact that works its way into the plot nicely.

Holland is a well-known historical fiction author, having written thirty novels. Her talent shines through each page, steeped in atmosphere, brutal and compelling action scenes, and political machinations. Side characters who appear in history books fill out the narrative to a satisfying degree as they interact with the protagonists.

Read this novel to immerse yourself in a skillfully created world where conquerors brandish their swords against hapless peasants and nomads wander through vivid lands. The protagonists are richly portrayed and defined by their behavior, making them relatable if not entirely likable. Highly recommended for those who appreciate a fast-paced story that celebrates the past without restricting it to modern mores.