I am a big fan of three genres; military fiction, historical fiction, and speculative fiction (particularly those worlds that resemble medieval times on our planet) thus, it was with great interest that I picked up Robyn Young's novel, Crusade. Crusade is a historical fiction story based on the Templar's and their ongoing clashes with the Mamluk's that dominated the middle east during this period of the middle ages. It seemed like a perfect confluence of elements that couldn't possibly let me down.
I imagine, at this point, you've already figured out the kicker to this review. The story did let me down; in many ways. First and foremost Young just isn't good at describing battle sequences. Fortunately for her there are few in the book. In fact this story is kind of a misnomer as little of the story is about the Crusade's but rather it is about a small group of Templar's and their efforts to prevent another crusade.
Ms. Young also does a poor job of getting me to care about any of the protagonists; Will Campbell is a likable guy but he seems to lack depth. Meanwhile, his secret love, Elwen, comes across as a shallow, selfish, and completely clueless girl which seems to directly contradict the character Young tries to create in Elwen. The little bit of actual description of Elwen led me to believe she would be a wise, savvy, and worldly lady who had experience far beyond her years and station. However, she constantly came across as clueless and naive. It was a shame because she had great promise when first introduced in the story.
The only character's that I really felt anything for were Garin, a drunken and selfish ex-templar who rightfully merited nothing but contempt from me. At times it seemed that Ms. Young was apologetic for making him such as scoundrel and at least twice she tried to make excuses for him being a complete ass; but his utter lack of real redeeming qualities belied her efforts. The only other interesting character was Kalawun - the mamluk conspirator with the Templar's trying to keep the peace. However, some elements of Kalawun were also completely unbelievable.
A prime example of the disconnect between Kalawun and his principals can be found in Kalawun's son, Khalil. The two of them have such divergent views concerning peace in the middle east you might think that Kalawun had no involvement in his children's lives. Yet, early on in the book Ms. Young suggested that not only was Kalawun involved in their lives but he was also close to them. Therefore, it made no sense to me that Khalil didn't at least understand his father's position and that Kalawun didn't raise his children to understand his point of view. How could Kalawun possibly hope for a lasting peace if he didn't even strive for it within his own household?
The story had a lot of promise but, sadly, the lack of believable characters just destroyed the book for me and I can't give it any higher than a 2 out of 5 star rating.