Wednesday, July 30, 2008
In 1203, a nameless British musician finds himself in Venice with the single task of assassinating the man who killed his family and tribe. When it turns out his intended target isn't in Venice at all, the musician ends up falling in with a starry-eyed and pious German knight named Gregor on his way to the Fourth Crusade. As the thousands of "Latins," a collection of Germans, Franks, and Venicians, make their way east, things begin to go wrong, and Gregor and his people--his brother Otto, Otto's girlfriend Lilliana, Gregor's power-hungry father-in-law Boniface, a mysterious captive Egyptian princess, and, of course, the nameless narrator--always seem to find themselves at the center of the action.
For Crusades enthusiasts (ahem) this is certainly worth dipping into. Galland follows the progress of the Crusade step by step from Venice to Zara to Constantinople, and the book offers a vivid recreation of the political upheavals and military back-and-forths that plagued the entire operation. Although much of the book is tongue-in-cheek, Galland captures the fatigue and political nuances that underwrote the entire fiasco--which, by the way, no one could have foretold from the onset. Her work is drawn from the primary accounts, and unsparing in the details of the campaign shortcomings and tragedies.
For me, it was a bit too unsparing--the book was long and I found myself tempted to skim despite my affection for the topic. Much of the primary action seemed far-fetched or steeped in bravura, which made me less sympathetic to the characters. I also would have loved to have seen more period detail come through in the behavior and speech of the characters, all of whom conducted themselves with a heavy kind of 21st-century romance pageant irony. For all the length and detail, I didn't feel transported, which was a disappointment. I guess that leaves room for another fictional treatment of the Fourth Crusade.