Tuesday 25 February 2020

#BookReview — Siege (The First Crusade, Book One) by Richard Foreman #HistoricalFiction #Crusades @RForemanAuthor

(The First Crusade, Book One)
By Richard Foreman

The crusader army still stands outside Antioch. Starving. Deserting.
An enemy force, led by Kerbogha of Mosul, is days away from relieving the walled city.
Bohemond of Taranto calls upon the English knight, Edward Kemp, to meet with an agent, who is willing to provide the Norman prince with access to Antioch.
But Bohemond is not alone in wishing to capture and lay claim to the prize. Edward must contend with enemies in his own camp.
Should the knight's mission fail, then so may the entire campaign.
Antioch must fall.

 is the first book in a new series, set during the First Crusade, by bestselling historical novelist Richard Foreman.

"The Army of God has turned into the army of God Help Us..."

It began with an inspirational speech. Pope Urban II called all of the Christians of Europe to reclaim the Holy Lands from the Muslims. "Deus vult," Urban had cried. "God wills it." Glory and riches, in this life, and the next, would be the reward to those brave enough to wrestle the Holy Sepulchre from the Saracens.

"Deus vult," he had cried. "Deus vult."

And so it seemed God had indeed willed it. Until the day His army looked upon the high fortified walls of the City of Antioch. It was then that His soldiers began to doubt the sincerity of Pope Urban II's words.

From a contest between Raymond's nephew and a knight of Bohemond's to the breaching of the walls of Antioch, Siege (The First Crusade, Book 1) by Richard Foreman is the most compelling historical fiction book I have ever read about the Crusades. Like a snapshot in time, Foreman has thrown his readers into the desperate situation facing the Crusaders as they came upon a colossal stumbling block in their bid to retake the Holy Lands.

With a narrative that is almost ornate in the telling and with an astoundingly ambitious, yet very successful, plot, Foreman has presented a book that lovers of great historical fiction can get very excited about. Not only is Siege vastly entertaining, but it is also next to impossible to put down. One more page became one more chapter. This is the kind of book that makes a reader forgo sleep to finish. 

The scope of the historical detail in this book has to be commended. Foreman has captured not only the desperation of the soldiers as food becomes scarce and starvation sets in but also the political intricacy and rivalry of men such as  Bohemond and Raymond. Foreman has, it seems, an intuitive understanding of what makes history worth reading.

The crusading army was meant to be one of unity, but all men are ambitious, especially when it comes to peer esteem and wealth. The rivalry and the ambitions of the nobles who took up the Cross have been wonderfully explored in this book. Foreman concentrates on two rival companies.The first company is led by Bohemond of Otranto, and the second, by Raymond of Toulouse. Foreman demonstrates this rivalry between Bohemond and Raymond with great skill and diligence. Both men want to best the other — they both want to be victorious, although whether that was for God's sake or their own is open to debate. 

Bohemond is portrayed as a man who commands the respect of his men. Men such as Edward Kemp and Thomas Devin — the protagonists in this story. Bohemond is also a very shrewd politician, as well as a military leader. He comes across as a very intelligent, and very knowledgeable commander. It seems that Foreman has brought Bohemond back from the dead and has breathed new life into him.

Raymond of Toulouse, as history tells us, was a very religious man who wished to die with honour in the Holy Lands. He was also extremely ambitious, and he wanted to be remembered. Foreman has given his readers a man who is more determined to vanquish Bohemond than to defeat the actual enemy, which I thought was an interesting take on this man's character and it was one that certainly helped to drive the story forward.

The protagonists of this book are two very different, and yet very wonderful men. Edward Kempt is a man who has suffered much during his life. He isn't a religious man at all. He sees what happened to him as a child as God's fault — God did nothing to stop the atrocities, or his parents murder. Edward is of the same mind as the seriousness of this siege takes hold. Men are starving. Men are dying because there is not enough food. Whose fault could this be but God's? They are, after all, fighting His war. Throughout this book, Edward struggles with his relationship with God, which I thought was endlessly fascinating. Also, Edward isn't in this fight because he wants to liberate the Holy Lands — he wants to earn enough money so he can buy a cottage, retire, get married, and raise a family. When you think of the Crusades, you think of men fighting under the banner of God, but Foreman reminds us with his characterisation of Edward that there were men whose swords were hired — they were not fighting for God, they were fighting for money. I thought Edward's depiction was fabulous. I really enjoyed reading about him.

My favourite character in this book is, without a doubt, Thomas Devin. Thomas is a profoundly pious young man who Edward calls a Holy Fool, because of his endless charity. Thomas would willingly starve to death if he could help someone else to live. He is a lamb amongst ravenous wolves, and I did fear for his safety on more than one occasion. However, like all lambs, there is a thread of a lion inside of Thomas, which is waiting to burst free and show the world what kind of man he truly is. I adored everything about Thomas, he makes solemn promises not only to God, but to his fellow man, and he will not break those promises, no matter what. He is a man that is fit to bursting with integrity, and I think this is what made him particularly appealing. Siege, is a story of desperate men, and an equally frantic battle to take control of the city. Thomas is a breath of fresh air in a world torn asunder by war.

As with any campaign during this era, and indeed, right up to very modern warfare, it was common for the army to have followers, be that the wives of the men, or prostitutes hoping to make some money from soldiers so far away from home. Foreman has given us the latter in Emma. Emma's war is not like her lover, Edward's, and nor is it like Thomas'. But I think it was a genius move by Foreman to add Emma into this story of war and ambition, for his readers get to witness the Siege of Antioch from a completely different perspective of that of a soldier or a knight. Emma's position is precarious — if the Crusaders lose, then she could end up dead or perhaps worse, a slave. This insight, I thought made this book scrumptiously balanced and gave an excellent depiction of what life may have been like for those who followed the army.

Siege (The First Crusade, Book 1) by Richard Foreman is a monumental work of scholarship. This book is bold, brutal and brilliant. I cannot wait to read Book 2 of what promises to be an irresistible series.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.

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Richard Foreman

Richard Foreman is the bestselling author of numerous historical series set during the Roman Republic and Roman Empire, including the Augustus Caesar books, Sword of Empire and Sword of Rome. He is also the author Warsaw, Raffles: The Complete Innings and Band of Brothers, a series charting the story of Henry V and the Agincourt campaign. Richard writes modern thrillers too, under the pseudonym of Thomas Waugh. He is a judge for the HWA Crowns and the founder of the London History Festival. He lives in London.

Connect with Richard: Sharpe BooksTwitterGoodreads.

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx