Shadow of the Swords

by Kamran Pasha

Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

Shadow of the Swords by Kamran Pasha According to an old Muslim saying, "Paradise is under the shadow of the swords." This novel about the twelfth-century clash between the Muslim leader Saladin and the crusading Richard the Lionheart (or "Lion's ass" as Saladin's brother refers to him), challenges that concept. It also turns on its head the centuries-old view of Richard as hero to show him as the ruthless killer who beheaded 2,700 civilian captives when Saladin was slow in paying a ransom after Richard's victory at Acre. Saladin, by contrast, is a near-saint.

The three great religions of the Middle East are represented by three enlightened characters: Saladin; Richard's fictional close friend and fellow campaigner William Chinon; and Saladin's personal physician, the Jewish sage Maimonides. Tying the plot together is a fictional niece of Maimonides, the beautiful and spirited Miriam, emotionally wounded from witnessing her mother's rape and murder at the hands of a Crusader knight. Miriam falls in love with Saladin. Later, she accompanies her uncle when Saladin sends him to treat Richard, desperately ill with camp fever. Richard, heterosexual in this portrayal, falls in love with her.

The chivalry and brutality of the Third Crusade can seem fantastic even in the dryest of historical accounts. Shadow of the Swords stresses the strange contrasts inherent in the period and amplifies them by giving fictional characters crucial, dramatic roles in major turning points of history. Even the Old Man of the Mountain, the sinister leader of the near-mythic cult of Assassins, makes an appearance near the novel's climax, leading to a fateful (and fictional) personal encounter between Saladin and Richard. Readers should not expect high literary quality; the prose is competent but sometimes graceless, the characters too romanticized to be completely convincing. But the historical setting is well researched, the plot clever and well-paced, the battle scenes stirring, and the message of the underlying kinship of the three great religions of the Middle East compelling and timely. (2010; 390 pages, including an Author's Note discussing the history behind the novel)

More about Shadow of the Swords at Powell's Books or

Other novels about Saladin and Richard the Lionheart:

The Book of Saladin by Tariq Ali (1998), a reflective literary novel focusing on Salah al-Din (Saladin) as he develops his plan to retake Jerusalem; Shadow of the Swords picks up where The Book of Saladin leaves off, with Jerusalem back under Muslim control. Review or More info at Powell's Books

The Lute Player by Norah Lofts (1951), a novel about Berengaria, Richard the Lionheart's wife, which provides a relatively unromanticized view of Richard. Review or More info at Powell's Books

The Heart of the Lion by Jean Plaidy (1977), a sympathetic novel about Richard the Lionheart and the Crusades; #3 in Plaidy's Plantagenet series. More info

Nonfiction about Saladin, Richard the Lionheart and the Crusades:

Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade by James Reston (2001). More info

Saladin: The Sultan and His Times by Hannes Möhring (English translation 2008). More info

The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf (1983). More info


Saladin article at Wikipedia

Back to Historical Novels of the Middle East

Back to Directory of Book Reviews

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.