by Nicole Galland
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
Crossed is a darkly humorous tale about a hapless Welsh minstrel, a charming prostitute, a suspiciously well-educated captive princess, and a pious German Crusader knight. They come together amid the passionate confusion of the Fourth Crusade in 1202 as it prepares to sail from Venice to recapture Jerusalem for Christendom.
The Crusades were misbegotten affairs with tragic consequences that continue into our own time. Among them, the Fourth Crusade stands out as exceptional in its folly. The Crusaders borrowed enormous sums from the Venetian government for ships and provisions, which they could not repay. To recoup part of their investment, the Venetians insisted the army stop en route at the port of Zara (now Zadar, Croatia), which had rebelled against Venice twenty years previously. The Crusaders attacked and ransacked the city, for which the pope excommunicated them.
After sailing to Corfu and some other Greek islands, where they engaged in more pillaging, the Crusaders detoured to Constantinople, supposedly an ally, to support a nephew of its then-reigning Emperor, Alexios III, in his bid to depose his uncle. They drove out Alexios III and installed his nephew as de facto Emperor Alexius IV. But when the Venetians demanded payment of sums that would have bankrupted the city, Alexius IV defied them, so the army sacked Constantinople. Ultimately, most of the Crusaders dispersed without ever reaching the Holy Land.
This is a greatly simplified summary. Galland uses her fictional characters to tell a more complicated story, a crescendo of one ill-conceived event after another, with admirable clarity. The tone of comic desperation in Crossed precisely suits its subject matter. While the Welsh minstrel's heroically madcap attempts to salvage his honor may strain credulity sometimes, they are easier to believe than the actual, documented historical events. (2008, 642 pages, including an author's note "for those curious about the history-fiction ratio")
More about Crossed at Powell's Books
Music of the Crusades:
Alas, I could find no modern recording of the once-popular troubadour song "Kalenda Maya" which the minstrel character in Crossed heaps such scorn upon. A variety of modern recordings of the music of medieval minstrels is, however, available. One of special interest to readers of this novel may be Music Of The Crusades, performed by the Early Music Consort of London, among others.
Other novels relating to the Fourth Crusade:
Lord Geoffrey's Fancy by Alfred Duggan (1962), set a half-century after the Fourth Crusade, as restive Orthodox Christians are overthrowing their Frankish conquerors. More info
Baudolino by Umberto Eco (Italian edition 2000, English translation 2001), is about a chronic liar who tells the story of his life to a Byzantine nobleman amid the 1204 sack of Constantinople. More info
The Golden Horn by Judith Tarr (1993), historical fantasy set in Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade; #2 in the Hound and the Falcon trilogy. More info
Nonfiction about the Fourth Crusade:
Memoirs or Chronicle of the Fourth Crusade and the Conquest of Constantinople by Geoffrey de Villehardouin (written circa 1207) Online or in book form
The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople by Jonathan Phillips (2004) More info
The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople by Donald E. Queller (1997) More info
The Sack of Constantinople
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