From the sweeping hills of Argences to the port city of Cologne overlooking the River Rhine, Etienne and Avielle find themselves drawn by the need for redemption against the backdrop of the First Crusade.
Heeding the call of His Holiness, Urban II, to free the Holy Land from the infidel, Etienne follows Duke Robert of Normandy across the treacherous miles, braving sweltering heat and snow-covered mountain passes while en route to the Byzantine Empire.
Moved by Peter of Amiens’ charismatic rhetoric in the streets of the Holy Roman Empire, Avielle joins the humble army of pilgrims. Upon arrival in Mentz, the peasant Crusaders do the unthinkable, destroying the Jewish Community. Consumed with guilt, Avielle is determined to die fighting for Christ, assuring her place in Heaven.
Etienne and Avielle cross paths in Constantinople, where they commiserate over past misdeeds. A spark becomes a flame, but when Avielle contracts leprosy, Etienne makes a promise to God, offering to take the priest cowl in exchange for ridding Avielle of her affliction.
Will Etienne be true to his word if Avielle is cleansed of the contagion, or will he risk eternal damnation to be with the woman he loves?
Bernal has masterfully depicted the horrors of the First Crusade. There are some profoundly upsetting scenes in this book, and there are certainly many casualties in this war. Bernal's portrayal of what became known in history as the Rhineland Massacres of the Jews, in particular, the persecution and the destruction of Jewish communities in Mentz (Mainz) left me reaching for the tissues. The Siege of Antioch was also particularly well-drawn — Bernal captured the horrors in the Crusader's camp as food ran scarce and disease took hold. She also demonstrated the rivalry between Godfrey of Bouillon and Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse, fabulously. The historical detailing in this book is staggering. Bernal has captured the very essence of what it must have been like to follow men such as Peter of Amiens (Peter the Hermit) and The Army of Robert Curthose of Normandy which was led by Robert, Duke of Normandy.
If you are looking for your next great Historical Fiction book then look no further than Crusader's Path by Mary Ann Bernal. I think this may well be Bernal's best book yet!
The Coffee Pot Book Club