The Land Beyond the Sea

Written by Sharon Kay Penman
Review by Ilysa Magnus

Those of us who are hardcore Penman fans have been breathlessly awaiting the release of this sizable tome. True to form, Penman again demonstrates her impeccable attention to historical detail and the depth and breadth of her research in this novel, which spans the years 1163-1187.

Outremer—the Kingdom of Jerusalem—was born in blood during the First Crusade in 1099 when Christians captured the holy city from the Saracens. Here Penman focuses on the ascendancy and reign of Baldwin IV, the Leper King who, despite his illness, was committed to his kingdom and his people.

Baldwin’s biggest mistake, though—which will ultimately result in the loss of Jerusalem to Saladin—is to arrange the marriage of his sister, Sybilla, to Guy de Lusignan, who ultimately is crowned king upon Baldwin’s death. That Guy is easily manipulated into making what becomes the worst possible military decision spells the beginning of the end for Outremer.

The hero of the history, and Penman’s focus after Baldwin’s death, is Balian d’Ibelin, courageous warrior, true patriot and superb diplomat. The intensity of Balian’s determination to save the Jerusalemites is even respected by Saladin and his brother. Balian’s negotiations with Saladin are a diplomatic tour de force.

The breadth of the landscape and sheer number of characters make it a virtual impossibility for Penman to keep us intensely involved in the action at every turn. However, as much as I found the action lagging after the deaths of Baldwin and his tutor, William of Tyre, only to pick up again during the final 100 pages because of Balian’s courage, the fact is that Penman has created a saga of epic proportions. She has given us insight into the inner workings of the minds of the great men and women of the time. There is a lot here to savor, and this book can’t be rushed through.