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Jackson, James - 'Pilgrim'
Paperback: 512 pages (June 2009) Publisher: John Murray ISBN: 0719569346

This book reads like a richly woven tapestry. The tale it tells starts off slowly and builds, layer by layer, to a breath-taking crescendo. The characters come to life and you feel as if you know them. You share their journey and want them to succeed.

James Jackson clearly knows an enormous amount about the time of the Crusades. We are treated to dramatically detailed descriptions of life as a crusader and can almost taste the desert dust as we race across the land, sword in hand, to join the fight. At the time of our story all seems lost. Christendom has been beaten by the Saracen and there is an uneasy peace. But thousands of children now flock to the Holy Land, in search of the one True Cross. They believe that their innocence and message of love will achieve what the adults before them could not and bring an end to the bloodshed - but this couldn't be further from the truth.

We follow the story of Kurt, his sister Isolda, and their young friends, barely in their teens, from a small German village, as they walk to their fate in the Holy Land at the behest of parents who believe that sacrificing their children will ensure their own places in heaven. Most of them perish on the way but enough make it to Jerusalem and they are shocked by what they find.

Three other brave souls join Kurt and Isolda to help them in their quest. One is Brother Luke - a mysterious monk, who has been charged, by the Pope himself, with the task of discovering the secrets of the wayward Templar Knights. Another is Otto, a young nobleman who is searching for the whereabouts of his long-lost crusader father and is being followed by unknown assassins who do not wish him well. Finally, Sergeant Hugh joins them at the command of Lady Matilda, a resident of Outremer - a settlement in the Holy Land - who wants the children crusaders kept safe from those who would enslave them.

The children's adventures see them captured and released on numerous occasions, as well as tracked by assassins, starving, scared, cold, in face-to-face combat with the dreaded Cathars and terrifying leper knights, hiding in caves, betrayed and rescued as they struggle on towards their goal. The reader is introduced to the situation in the Holy Land long before the young crusaders arrive. You helplessly watch the children getting closer to danger and corruption, all the while still innocently believing the message that led them into the Crusade many months before and knowing, while they do not, that the messenger abandoned them a long time ago.

This book is just fantastic. After a slow start, it finishes with an explosion of suspense and excitement and the small twist right at the end of the book is definitely worth the wait.

Amanda C M Gillies, Scotland
August 2009

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 30/08/2009 15:55