CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 17 . . . . April 28, 2006
Shadows on a Sword is the second volume of Karleen Bradford's “The Crusades” trilogy and is set during the First Crusade, 1096. Like all good sequels, the book contains a few ties to the first volume but stands confidently on its own.
Theo and his best friend, Amalric, are young knights eager to embark on the Holy Crusade to reclaim the city of Jerusalem. They leave their home in Germany to travel around the eastern end of the Mediterranean and eventually arrive at their goal. No one could have predicted the hardships along the way, the many battles, the infighting among the Crusaders, or the three long years needed for the journey. All of these take their toll, both physically and emotionally, on the two young men.
This is an amazing historical novel written in strong, simple vocabulary. Readers will enjoy the excitement and adventure of the travel of a massive army and the descriptive battle scenes, and they can follow the progress of the Crusaders via clear maps at the beginning of each chapter. History teachers will appreciate the accuracy of the details and the chance for modern students to glimpse the realities of the medieval world. The armour of the soldiers and the siege weapons used are vividly described and help the era come to life. Suspense is kept at a peak throughout the story. The ending is a happy one.
Intermingled with the war/adventure story are the themes of friendship, jealousy and love as the main characters Theo, Amalric, and Emma (servant girl turned groom!) deal with one another, other Crusader personalities and the chaos swirling around them. The feelings of each character toward war and the pangs of conscience they reveal would be the basis for excellent class discussion. Is killing necessary and, therefore, condoned because of the wartime circumstances? When this killing includes innocent townspeople and even children, is it still war or merely the cruelty and brutality of men gone mad? The links to current world events are evident.
Shadows on a Sword is an excellent book in a fine series for young readers. The three volumes are available in one boxed set and, while each could be read separately, they make an impact when read as one. Although each is over 200 pages, the chapters are not long, and within each chapter are several breaks as well. This makes the books more appealing for young readers or perhaps as novels to read aloud in a library or classroom.
Bradford's prose takes readers totally away from the modern world and immerses them in medieval sights, sounds and smells. Yet modern readers will relate easily to the characters because they grapple with perennial human questions. Whether as an adjunct to an English or History class, or simply as a novel for an independent reader, Shadows on a Sword and, indeed, the entire series, are a 'must have.'
Ann Ketcheson, of Ottawa, ON, is a former teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.