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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Crusader’s Path by Mary Ann Bernal takes us back to the days of Christendom’s First Crusade against the Muslim invaders of Constantinople, Jerusalem, and lands in between. Avielle, a minstrel’s daughter, is doing God’s work, healing and caring for the most rejected of society’s cast-offs, the lepers. Having lost her father to the disease, Avielle is well aware she may succumb to leprosy’s ravages one day, but she is determined to commit her life to serve her God and community. That is until she meets and falls in love with a merchant, Gideon, who steals her heart. Already betrothed, Gideon is also a Jew, and Avielle realizes her love affair with him is doomed, so she rededicates her life to following her God and healing the sick. In the meantime, Etienne, a close confidant of Duke Robert of Normandy, follows Lord Robert as he heeds the call of Pope Urban II to free the Holy Land of the accursed Muslim hordes. Inspired by Peter, a visiting priest, Avielle joins the holy crusade to seek personal redemption from her God for her transgressions against Him with Gideon. Crossing paths on their journey to the Holy Land, Avielle and Etienne realize they have found the direction and purpose in their lives with each other. Avielle and Etienne forge a strong bond as they head into the unknown and the extreme danger of battle against the Muslim hordes.
Crusader’s Path is the very type of historical fiction I enjoy. Centered around actual historical events and real characters, it is character-driven and, at its core, a beautiful, romantic, and tragic story. In Avielle, author Mary Ann Bernal has created a wonderful character; strong, driven, passionate, and quite unusual for a woman of the era. I particularly enjoyed the pull and tug of the torment between her desires, her duty, and the passionate love she felt for both Gideon and Etienne. Etienne equally was a complex character torn between his love for his wife and his vineyard and the excitement that Duke Robert offered him on the road as a fighting, active knight. That both Avielle and Etienne, with their worldly demons and differing motivations, could find the peace and happiness they both desperately sought in each other’s arms was the highlight of this story for me. There is enough battling and action in this story to keep the adrenaline-junkie glued to the pages, but for me, it is a romance, pure and simple and a beautiful one at that. I appreciated the time the author spent detailing the ridiculous disparity between those who led the crusades; the dukes, the nobles, the knights, and those poor peasant farmers who fought and died for their God and the afterlife. I love how the author sums it up when she suggests that, encouraged by Pope Urban II, peasants trading their pitiful subsistence for the brief excitement of travel and battle, followed by life in heaven and the forgiveness of all sins, was a simple choice to make. This book is a fantastic read and one I can highly recommend.