The Land Beyond the Sea

Putnam. Mar. 2020. 688p. ISBN 9780399165283. $32.
Penman (Lionheart) explores the events immediately preceding the Third Crusade in her new novel. When King Baldwin IV is crowned ruler of Jerusalem at only 13 years old, his subjects have good reason to be nervous. Not only is the Crusader State in grave danger of being retaken by Muslim forces led by Saladin I, tempestuous rivalries threaten the kingdom from within. Most devastatingly, those close to the vibrant young king know he has early signs of leprosy, a terrible disease that makes the search for Baldwin’s heir unexpectedly urgent. This immersive, well-researched trip back in time to the 12th century is constantly shifting political alliances, with thrilling high-stakes battle scenes making the story consistently compelling. Penman develops several nuanced Muslim characters in addition to Saladin and presents both sides of the conflict with care, though her focus on political maneuvering means any religious motivations of her characters get somewhat short shrift.
VERDICT Recommended for Penman’s many fans, and readers seeking out fascinating lesser-known figures not often covered in historical fiction.

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