S.J.A. Turney's Books & More

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Birth of a legend

with one comment

I just finished a back-to-back read of the first two books in Jack Hight’s Saladin series – Eagle and Kingdom, so this is very much a review of both.


The story follows the youth and growth of the young Yusuf, from his childhood when he is considered weak and unworthy through to becoming the legendar character that is Salah Ad Din, scourge of the crusaders.

The first thing that struck me about these books (and I would say is still the outstanding review factor after book 2 ends) is the fresh perspective Hight has written from. The crusading era is not uncommon for writers of Historical Fiction, and Hight’s offering might easily have become run of the mill, despite his obvious knowledge and talent, had he not done something different to stand out. Eagle and Kingdom are both written largely from the Arabic Saracen perspective, though seen often through the eyes of a westerner (John of Tatewic), which gives it relevance to a western reader. The main characters are generally Saracen, and that people are portrayed, unusually in this milieu, as an honourable, ethical, family-oriented, pious, friendly and likeable people. That fact alone could have driven me through the series.

Couple that with High’s clear knowledge of the era of the Second Crusade and the world in which the future Saladin grew up, and also his understanding and presentation of Islam and the Islamic peoples of the time, and it creates a story that is not only fresh and interesting, but also informative and revealing. I’m no expert on the time, but I do have a grounding in the early crusades from schooling and private reading and, while the author makes a couple of small tweaks or takes a tiny liberty with direct fact for the sake of story (which all such authors do and without which Historical Fiction would simply be non-fiction) everything seems to fall perfectly into place with geography and timelines.

The story follows a general arc of personal growth, mirrored in the growth of Saracen power in the Middle East.

The first book follows how young Yusuf, in the shadow of his brutal brother, comes across John, a Christian knight, after a battle at Damascus following which he is taken prisoner. Yusuf buys John as a slave and a bond slowly begins to form between the two, granting John more freedom and hope than a man in his position should ever wish for, but teaching young Yusuf everything he needs to become the man he is destined to be. The interplay between the two characters of totally different cultures and the interplay as they learn from each other is lovely and makes the book an easy read.

The second book moves more into the world of politics and intrigue, and takes us to Egypt and into a world of internecine warfare. In the meantime, John is having troubles of his own in Jerusalem. The interplay between the characters is still there when it can be, but by necessity the series has grown and moved on in the second book and there is more of a focus on the activities of the two friends (Yusuf and John) as individuals than there was in the first book. This is, of course, wholly appropriate for the plot arc, as is the warfare that is becoming more and more prevalent and central as the story progresses.

I look forward the the conclusion of the trilogy and what it means for the friendship between John and Saladin.

Written by SJAT

November 8, 2012 at 5:10 pm

One Response

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  1. An era I enjoy. Can’t wait to read.



    November 9, 2012 at 2:42 am

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