Published in 1950, this is a historical novel of the First Crusade. The year is 1096 and Messer Osbert fitzRalph, a Norman knight, holds the manor of Bodeham, Sussex in England. His oldest son will inherit the title, the manor and the land, his inexperienced second son, Roger, will inherit nothing. Undecided as to his future and career, he decides to become a knight and go adventuring on the newly declared Crusade through Asia Minor, Armenia, Syria, and finally to Jerusalem. Naturally he will seek fame and fortune on the way, but above all his duty will be to keep his Norman oath of loyalty to follow his sworn leader wherever he may lead them.
The internecine politics, the historical places, and the characters are captured in vivid detail. Although our young hero and the wife he gains on the campaign are fiction, the battles, the motives and the settings are all true to the events. The narrative imparts a great deal of close-up accurate history whilst always maintaining the human interest, as he learns the art of combat, siege warfare, and struggles to keep his beautiful young wife in the style to which she would like to become accustomed. The brief flashes of glory and conquest, are balanced with the fogs of war, its privations, the long hours and days of boredom and inactivity. Success, it seems, is never won by force of arms alone, even keeping his men-at-arms and warhorse fed and healthy takes more ingenuity than might be believed. The essential ingredient of the morale of the men is explored through his relationship with the priest, who counsels him in his struggle not to descend into the mere animal struggle for survival. As with Stephen Crane's 'Red Badge of Courage', we gain a sense of the grand sweep of war, but also of the importance of the smallest details, and the hardness of coming to terms with what war does to the combatants and civilians alike.
This report prepared by Michael JR Jose