Pilgrim’s War begins in France in 1096, when a hermit promises the townspeople that Christian soldiers who march to Jerusalem will be rewarded with redemption. What Jecks shows, though, is that many of these “soldiers” were anything but: they included laypersons taking up swords for the first time; the prostitutes who marched alongside them, seeking to have their sins forgiven while still relying on their profession to feed themselves; and ordinary parents with their children, looking to set up businesses and make their fortunes in Jerusalem. All will have to find great strength to complete their journey, and disappointment, violence and death is inevitable.
Jecks has chosen breadth over depth in his portrayal of the pilgrimage. Some characters’ stories receive more attention than others, especially those of Fulk, the young blacksmith, and his brother Odo, a burgeoning fanatic. However, the wide cast of characters and the sudden shifts from one story to another mean that even these key characters are not explored in any depth. There are no real surprises in this story: everyone does what would be expected of him or her in a broad tale, like the hardened prostitute who falls for a client, or the soldier who kills innocents only to be tortured by their cries. In contrast, the fights and battle scenes are described clearly, in great detail.
There are depictions of rapes, which are sometimes graphic although not overly gratuitous. The prose is competent. Chapters often end on a single dramatic sentence, such as “For the first time in his life, Fulk felt truly alone”, a technique which loses its effect as it is repeated so often. This book will appeal to those readers looking for an action story with a light touch of family drama and romance on the side.