Book Review - Warriors of God

, in Books, Nonfiction

Warriors of God by James Reston Jr is a sprawling account of the Third Crusade, told from the point of view of both King Richard and Saladin - who still loom large in the culture of Europe and the Middle East respectively. King Richard ("The Lionheart") is known for is knightly deeds and implausibly romantic lock-up-your-virtuous-maidensAlthough you needn't bother since Richard didn't exactly swing that way adventuring, while Saladin is still renowned for his wisdom and achievements in unifying the arab world.

The Third Crusade brought these two men together, and Warriors of God tries to do the difficult task of giving each leader his due. The problem is that Richard (legend notwithstanding) actually was the brave, dashing and charismatic leader, while Saladin was older, wiser, and learned and somewhat of a wet blanket. Also, as part of one of the not-so-ill-conceivednot that this is saying much, the crusades were pretty much a disaster from start to finish efforts in the middle east during the period, Richard is always on the attack while Saladin is slightly on the back foot. So far from being a 50/50 split between Saladin and Richard, Warriors of God naturally follows the English king more.

I was hoping for some insight into the Arab world around that time, but Warriors of God treads pretty lightly. Fans of European history will be satisfied though - there was plenty of courtly skullduggery going on and I was delighted to find that King John was as much of a horrible bastard as Robin Hood makes him out to be.

I must admit is was disappointed in Warriors of God. I was hoping for tales of epic battles and an explaining of what was going on from both sides. But although the book covers many engagements the style is dry and factual, which is fine but I was hoping for more excitement. Likewise, the furious politicking that occurred between the opponents is not conveyed with any tension. It is a little too breezy to be a history textbookThere are no footnotes - everyone loves footnotes, yet not stylish enough to read as an adventure. Also, Reston Jr cannot help but quote various contemporary poems at some length - those wandering minstrels were all terrible and I resented wading through their horrible verses.

Warriors of God is not terrible and I did learn from it. But it didn't grab me in any way.

Recommend only if you like this sort of thing.