Saturday, April 1, 2023

Balian d'Ibelin: Knight of Jerusalem (Jerusalem Trilogy Book One) by Helena P. Schrader

Publication Date: June 30, 2020 (new edition) 
Originally released in 2014

Length: 402 pages

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I don't give 5 star ratings too often when I write a review. I think 4 says a book was great and even 3 means the book was good but not spectacular. So for me, 5 stars means I highly recommend it and found very little fault with it. This is one of those books and I can't want to read the next two in the series. It is also unique, a topic very rarely tackled, and so that makes it even more special for me. It is more a "one of a kind" type of book.

This story takes place between the years of 1171 and 1178 when Balian went from an insignificant youngest son to a member of the royal family in marriage to Queen Maria Comnena. His father, the former Count of Jaffa is deceased and his eldest brother Hugh also dies after a fall from his horse. Hugh prefers Balian to be the one to inherit Ibelin Castle and its lands but it is supposed to go to the middle brother, Baldwin, who is already Lord of Ramla. Baldwin is presented as a sour, disagreeable character who is not anxious to abide by Hugh's wishes. When Balian goes to King Almaric in Jerusalem to plead his case, Baldwin, or Barry, as he is called in the story, is not enthusiastic and is hopeful he will be rejected. 

Balian succeeds in making a name for himself in his service to the young Prince Baldwin IV who is just ten years old and suffering from the terrible affliction of leprosy. Teaching Baldwin to ride without his hands and befriending the lonely boy, Balian develops a close bond with him while also becoming smitten with his beautiful stepmother, Queen Maria, lonely wife of King Almaric. After King Almaric's death, Balian becomes even more valued by Baldwin and Maria as they often lean on him for support. 

Balian eventually rises to become Constable of Ascalon. During this period he comes into contact with the famous warrior, Salah al-Din and has to defend his territory and protect the helpless refugees fleeing the Muslim advance. Through courage, diplomacy, and luck Balian triumphs in the Battle of Montgisard and saves his people from the forces of Salah al-Din. 

Schrader tells the story of Balian while adding some fictional characters for depth and color. His various stable boys and assistants are given backstories and a slave woman tells her gripping story in order to help reveal the fate of those kidnapped by the Muslim forces. Throughout the novel we meet real life figures such as Reynald de Chatillon, Agnes of Courtenay (mother of King Baldwin), and Aimery de Lusignan of the famous de Lusignan family. 

Schrader's grasp of this time period is impressive. Only Sharon Penman's The Land Beyond the Sea holds a candle to it. I was drawn into the story the way I am with the best historical fiction.....authentic details, historical accuracy, along with romance and well depicted battles. I admit the battle scenes can sometimes bore me but she does a good job of not spending too long in one place and dragging it out too much. It is clear she has spent a lot of time researching and visiting her subject and I learned things I haven't found in other novels set during the time period. While I have read that there is not a lot of historical evidence detailing Balian's life, and I'm sure she had to create a lot of the story from her own mind, from what I can gather the novel is as accurate as possible given the scant information. 

Her books have won several historical fiction awards and she has others set during this time. The Balian story is part of a trilogy and I will definitely be reading the other two.



  1. I have come across Baldwin in other books, so I am very tempted by this.

    Thank you for sharing your review with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

    1. I really liked it because it was a rarely attempted storyline. She did a good job of making him come to life. Hope you enjoy it!