Continuing with my recent reading on the Crusades, I just finished The Road To Jerusalem by Swedish author Jan Guillou. I am always a little wary of reading books about the Crusades, especially ones on the Knights of the Templar, because many of these books have been close to heresy. However, I decided to give this book a try because it seemed promising.
This book is the first of three that chronicles the exploits of Arn Magnusson, a young Swede from a noble family. Arn is raised in a Cistercian monastery and learns the finer points of the Christian life. Along with his formal education, Arn is taught the art of war by a brother monk who was a former Templar Knight. This combat training comes in handy when Father Henri, the head of the monastery thinks it is time for Arn to experience the world in order to ascertain God’s role for him. Because of some carnal sins, Arn is forced into doing penance by going to Rome to join the Templar Knights – the book ends with him starting on that journey.
Guillou is a gifted storyteller. The plot has many twists and turns that keep you guessing and wondering about where the story is headed. Along with a great story, you get a piece of Swedish history. As with many countries in these times, Sweden was divided into several different parts that were controlled by individual clans. Arn’s clan – the Folkung Clan from West Gotaland – is cast in a deadly game of kingmaking. I love reading about a country’s history in the context of historical fiction. As an aside, Guillou tells a great story without much vulgarity – both in speech and actions – I mention this because many good books are ruined by trashy writing that does nothing to enahnce the story.
Guillou fully develops Arn’s character and has you believing in the naive and gullible young man. Along with this deeply religious young man, Guillou includes a vast cast of characters – church men and nobles. I particularly like the relationship developed between Arn and Father Henri.
The plot takes a while to develop – so have a little patience – in this book of 398 pages. The action is slow at times, but the dialogue and thoughts of the characters are intriguing. Your patience with the slow beginning will be rewarded with a great story.