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The Road to Jerusalem: Book One of the Crusades Trilogy    by Jan Guillou Amazon.com order for
Road to Jerusalem
by Jan Guillou
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

It's about time we read author Jan Guillou, who is widely popular in his native Sweden, having sold over two million copies as well as a movie version of the trilogy in which The Road to Jerusalem is Book One. This is a story to savor, one that makes readers wish that the succeeding parts to the trilogy will soon be available.

Arn Magnusson is the second son of a rich landowner. As a youngster he falls to his apparent death but is revived after much praying by his father and mother. They see this as a sign that their son is special, and he is sent to a monastery for his education. The brothers note the boy's special abilities and are able to further them, teaching him love for his fellow man above all, along with skills that will enable him physically to defend himself. Since Sweden in the 1100s is a very warlike society, this is a very good thing. What the monks do not arm him against, though, is human nature in all its variety. Upon leaving the monastery, he is easily duped by the unscrupulous. Only in the just society of his father is he able safely to learn the ways of man. And then, of course, there are the women! Because of his innocent love for Cecilia, Arn is excommunicated from the church with the penance of having to serve twenty years as a Knight Templar.

In Guillou's words we come to understand life in the Nordic lands, in particular the changing relationships among the clans, the church's role and the politics in general of the time. For me, the Christian education of Arn was most beautifully demonstrated in the many discussions between him and Father Henri and Arn's subsequent ruminating on what they discussed. At the same time, the foreshadowing of Arn's upcoming time as a Templar is evident by the battle cry: 'For God and death to all Saracens!' God's children are select, and just as they do not include the innocent (because unknowing) thralls (servants) who worship their pagan gods so too can they never include the Saracens, who 'are the most nefarious race that the Devil has put on our earth. They are not human beings, they are devils in human form' - this from the temperate Father Henri.

Book Two of the trilogy deals with Arn's time among the Saracens. It will be interesting to see what Arn, whose grasp of Christianity is pure, makes of those devils when he meets them in person.

2nd Review by Alex Telander:

As a medieval historian and a big fan of historical fiction, family members from Sweden have been urging me for years to learn some Swedish so I can enjoy the fabulous bestselling Crusades Trilogy from author Jan Guillou. Fortunately this isn't a problem any more. The first book in the trilogy, The Road to Jerusalem (which has done very well in Europe) is now available to English readers.

The title may be somewhat of a misnomer, with an emphasis on road to, as the main characters never even make it near to the Holy Land. However as this is a trilogy, readers know they'll get there eventually. In the year 1150, readers are introduced to Arn Magnusson, a boy of noble birth who is sent to a cloister where he learns the ways of the church, as well as being trained in weaponry and horse riding by a master. Eventually leaving the cloister, Arn is reunited with his family - expecting a humble monk, they find a powerful but pious warrior. After committing and being charged with a grave sin, he is forced to become a member of the Knights Templar at the end of the book.

On the surface this seems a simple story, and readers may have a little trouble with the many Swedish names and words (a pronunciation guide would have been helpful; fortunately I at least know how to sound those foreign letters: sounds like awe, with a soft 'e' sound like egg, and ( is the equivalent in the Norwegian and Danish alphabets) have an er sound), but Guillou does an incredible job of analyzing and revealing medieval twelfth-century life in Scandinavia. In the style of Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, Guillou isn't obvious and overbearing with the history, but reveals it through plot and story, allowing readers to make deductions for themselves. And those who've wondered about the tre kronor or three crown flag and symbol prevalent throughout Sweden will have their questions answered in The Road to Jerusalem.

Guillou probably could have combined his story into one massive book la Ken Follett, but instead offers a fun trilogy that begins with a strong foundation and background for those not too familiar with the period and area. It continues in 2010 in the second book, The Templar Knight.

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