Pillars of Light

Written by Jane Johnson
Review by Hilary Daninhirsch

Themes of love in wartime, familial duty, and faith are woven through this sweeping epic, which transports readers to the days of King Richard the Lionhearted, through the deserts of Syria, and into the war waged by Saladin’s army in its attempt to conquer Jerusalem. Pillars of Light is two stories in one, both taking place in the late 1100s. The two eventually collide in an unexpected way.

First there is John Savage, a boy who was abandoned at birth and raised in a priory in Cornwall, England. There he meets a man known only as “The Moor” who rescues John from a life of abuse, taking him on the road with a group of other misfits. The carnival-like troupe goes from town to town putting on shows, faking miracles, pretending that everyday objects are holy relics, stealing and lying, and often finding their lives in peril. Then there is the story of Zohra, a Muslim girl, and Nathaniel, a Jewish doctor. Despite their religious differences, they risk their lives for a forbidden romance.

This atmospheric book is masterfully researched, with lush descriptions of landscape and intricate insight into the human heart. Pillars of Light is an all-encompassing adventure, wrapped in multiple love stories set against the backdrop of faith and belief, which explores what drives the human heart to keep beating when all hope seems to be lost.