The Fifth Crusade by Mark Butler is an enthralling read. I’m not normally a fan of medieval Europe, but Butler has managed to both bring to life some wonderful, conflicting characters while being informative about the Fifth Crusade.
The prose is pretty yet just the right amount of graphic, especially when it comes to the brutal battles the crusaders fought. There’s a lot of politics at play, and many important figures, but as the reader it doesn’t feel overwhelming or like a long list of facts. Instead, concepts and real life events are all interwoven together as part of the protagonist’s story, who, though fictitious, is complex and very likeable.
The protagonist is Amir, a blacksmith who comes to Europe because he’s tired of Iceland and he wants to see the world. Along the way, he meets and befriends, Reddlin, an archer and many who can speak many languages. The two make a great pair, and together they have adventures in France and Italy, before finally deciding to join the crusade.
Amir wants to be a part of history and fight for glory, while Amir wants to see more of the world and earn money as a blacksmith.
The story takes place over the course of three years, making Amir and Reddlin some of the longest fighting crusaders, since the Fifth Crusade was so tumultuous and disorganized that leaders and soldiers often came and went.
Although I deeply enjoyed the story, and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it since I didn’t know much about the crusades before, one minor issue I had was I felt the book could be expanded.
At one point, in France, Amir meets a wealthy woman who asks that he make her a pretty necklace out of one of her jewels. He accepts, but soon her and Reddlin are called away to exact revenge on some Italians who have hurt their friend. Amir tries to return the jewel, but the woman, intrigued by him, insists he keep it to think of her. She decides when he returns that she will win him over.
However, though the story hints at Amir living past the crusade, there is no further mention of the woman. And this is just one example of the book possibly leaving the reader hanging.
Overall though, the book was a great read. Amir and Reddlin’s friendship deepens and then is complicated by a big event, and reading about Amir’s skill as a blacksmith is fascinating. He can bend metal to his will and he likes to share his knowledge. It’s also interesting to hear his perspective on the Crusades, since he believes in the Nordic gods. This makes him both powerful and a threat in the crusader army.
For readers who may know more details about the crusade, and in particular the Fifth Crusade, Butler explains at the end of the book which parts are made up and what is real.
The Fifth Crusade is part of Butler’s Crusades series, so for anyone who wants to read more you can try Butler’s The Fourth Crusade, The Sixth Crusade, and Beasts of the Seventh Crusade.