The Road to Jerusalem: Book One of the Crusades Trilogy

Written by Jan Guillou
Review by Ilysa Magnus

In the first installment of his Crusades trilogy, Guillou—one of Sweden’s best-selling writers–introduces us to his cast of characters and a world about which many of us knowledgeable about the Crusades are unfamiliar.

Arn Magnusson, a young boy of noble birth, is taken to be raised in a monastery under the tutelage of Father Henri, a Cistercian monk. Here he is tutored in history, languages, philosophy—all intellectual pursuits which he absorbs with alacrity. He is also taught to fight by a surviving Templar knight. As he grows, there is virtually no one as talented with sword and bow, but Arn is also kept sheltered, with no knowledge of evil or of people’s wicked motivations.

Arn is tossed out into a world outside the monastery walls where lords vie for power, women use their wiles to entrap men, and politics are a dangerous game. Ultimately, Arn meets Cecilia, his soul mate, with whom he has a passionate relationship. He wants to marry her, but because of one fateful mistake, Arn is sent off to fight for twenty years as a test of his faith and as his penance.

I admit to having little knowledge of 12th-century Scandinavian politics and customs; the portions in which such goings-on were focal were a bit confusing and the vying factions almost impossible to keep separate. However, Arn’s story is engaging. He is pure innocence in a disturbing way. Arn’s utter lack of worldly wisdom is upsetting because his intelligence and ability to logicize are so well developed. His mentors at the monastery have done good things for him intellectually, but Arn simply has no emotional defenses.

I look forward to the second installment in this trilogy. I really do want to see how Arn fares.