From the publisher:
From the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Sharon Kay Penman comes the story of the reign of King Baldwin IV and the Kingdom of Jerusalem’s defense against Saladin’s famous army.
The Kingdom of Jerusalem, also known as Outremer, is the land far beyond the sea. Baptized in blood when the men of the First Crusade captured Jerusalem from the Saracens in the early twelfth century, the kingdom defined an utterly new world, a land of blazing heat and a medley of cultures, a place where enemies were neighbors and neighbors became enemies.
At the helm of this growing kingdom sits young Baldwin IV, an intelligent and courageous boy committed to the welfare and protection of his people. But despite Baldwin’s dedication to his land, he is afflicted with leprosy at an early age and the threats against his power and his health nearly outweigh the risk of battle. As political deception scours the halls of the royal court, the Muslim army–led by the first sultan of Egypt and Syria, Saladin–is never far from the kingdom’s doorstep, and there are only a handful Baldwin can trust, including the archbishop William of Tyre and Lord Balian d’Ibelin, a charismatic leader who has been one of the few able to maintain the peace.
Filled with drama and battle, tragedy and romance, Sharon Kay Penman’s latest novel brings a definitive period of history vividly alive with a tale of power and glory that will resonate with readers today.
Penman presents a truly monumental portrait of the Kingdom of Jerusalem during a period beginning about the time the first crusade succeeded in opening up the land to Christianity until the city was retaken by the Saracens under the sultan Saladin. The research done by the author is briefly outlined by her in an afterward of the book. And, while it was written as a novel, Penman makes the case for it’s being based on the facts as researched by her and various historians writing about the period.
In order to tell the story as a novel, the author has put words, conversations, and personal feelings into the actions of the novel’s persona and first and foremost that action allows them to become real for the reader. During the period dealt with a young man named Baldwin became king of the area and is depicted as wise beyond his years. He developed leprosy early in his life with the disease affecting him until his untimely death in his 20’s. He is credited with consolidating the territories involved in the Kingdom of Jerusalem and at the same time militarily holding off the constant attacks by the Saracens attempting to recover the lands held by them prior to the first crusade.
There are only a few people that Baldwin can trust, and two of these play leading roles in the book. The first is the archbishop; William of Tyre and the other Lord Balian d’Ibelin. Balian rides in support of Baldwin during the battles staged against the invading Saracens and has his personal life including marriage to a member of the royal family become a centerpiece in the novel.
The sultan Saladin plays an important part in the story, as he did during real life as he leads his people into war against those that usurped the lands belonging to them. He was a military genius and while shown as handling the people his armies conquered; killing or selling many into slavery his wisdom at many instances is noteworthy and described by the author.
The novel culminates at the time that Jerusalem is recaptured by Saladin and describes briefly what happens to many people affected by the conquest and who must leave their homes for other places. A brief summary of the presence of King Richard of England, including his capture by Saladin and later ransom by his brother John, ties this book into the legend of Robin Hood which involves the efforts of this picaresque outlaw to free King Richard.
The study of history is subject to interpretation and is really never the result of hard facts. It is, therefore, to Penman’s credit that she has written a history of the period in the packaging of a completely engrossing novel. In either case, it is beyond doubt a five-star work.
3/2020 Paul Lane
THE LAND BEYOND THE SEA by Sharon Kay Penman. G.P. Putnam’s Sons (March 3, 2020). ISBN: 978-0399165283. 688p.