I thoroughly enjoyed Crusader King and I’m sure I will read it again, which always says a lot about a book. Peek draws her characters very well, making them memorable and distinct whilst still credibly historical. It’s the main character who really steals the show, though: Baldwin IV of Jerusalem. I knew almost nothing about him before reading the book, but he’s such a lovely character, and so holy – in such an appealing way – that I spent much of the book wondering why he was never canonised.
Having finished the book, I remained fixated on this question for some time, coming to two possible explanations:
Explanation 1) Since Peek is writing for young people, she may justifiably have down-played any negative aspects of Baldwin’s character and emphasised all the positive ones. As a friend of mine once put it – historical fiction remains fiction, if you want pure history, go read a textbook.
Explanation 2) Baldwin really was that holy and good, but since the people with power and money (the nobles) spent his life waiting for him to die so they could seize his throne, they probably weren’t going to feel like spending money trying to get him canonised; whilst the people who loved him (the common people) had no power or money. And both nobles and common people were all too soon after his death conquered by the Saracens, after which they had no freedom to pursue anyone’s canonisation and probably did well to remain Christians themselves.
I certainly hope the reason Baldwin IV isn’t a canonised saint is the second reason, not the first. But either way, the book is a fantastic read. Though I did keep wishing a certain fictional friend had actually existed in real life, and had actually done the thing Baldwin asks him to do. How different the history of the Middle East might have been! If you want to make sense of that spoiler-free comment, you’ll have to read the book!
My one major niggle was that as an adult reader, I would have liked more detail at times. The book passes very quickly over great swathes of events in Baldwin’s life, especially in the later part, and I would have been perfectly happy with a much longer and more detailed book. However, Peek is writing for young people, not for adults, so whilst I hope she might one day write a full, detailed, adult version, this cannot really stand as an actual criticism since she does what she sets out to do well.
Off to look for more books about Baldwin IV, though I doubt I will find anything more satisfying than this one!
Edit: To add information received from the author (below):
Susan Peek says: “To answer your question, Baldwin’s cause for canonization was indeed introduced, and he is considered Blessed in France, but not universally. The French version of his name is Beaudoin, and many boys are named after him. I am not exactly sure why his cause was halted. He truly was very holy; even non-Christians acknowledge his great sanctity.”
Lovely to know!
I received a free copy of the book whilst acting as a reviewer for the Catholic Writer’s Guild. ‘Crusader King’ subsequently received the Seal of Approval.