Siege of Heaven

Written by Tom Harper
Review by Patrika Salmon

Harper writes about that charade of religious fervour, the First Crusade of 1096-98, in all its ghastly violence and hypocrisy. The reader is spared nothing of the petty rivalries between the various dukes and warlords, the infighting and power struggles which is all the Crusade turns out to be for these men.

Harper’s research is impressive. I learned a great deal about the shenanigans of the end of the Holy Roman Empire as the main character, a Greek, Demetrios Askiates, is the Emperor’s representative in Antioch. He’s an irritating fellow who just wants to go home and is always falling over his feet or door sills when he fights. However, he cannot return to Constantinople until he has fulfilled his duty to his Emperor, and he doesn’t want to, not with the in-fighting between the lords, the plague among the true pilgrims and the double-crossing dealings his Emperor wishes him to be part of. So through Demetrios’ eyes we stagger along with the thoroughly unholy Crusade and finally reach Jerusalem.

One does not wonder, having read about the main players, why there was no earthquake of protest at the useless slaughter and cruel massacre in Jerusalem, but Demetrios survives, finds his family and does return them safely to Constantinople.

The research and writing are excellent, and the history of the whole Crusade is covered from start to dismal end, but it was, for me, grim reading. If you enjoy battles and fighting, politicking of the nastiest sort and hypocritical Christians, then you will enjoy the book. If you want to learn what the Crusades were really about, this is the book to read.