Friday, June 22, 2012
We just finished reading The Brethren aloud for the first time yesterday.
*Deep, quavery breath*
So let's get to it.
The Brethren opens at the onset of the Third Crusade, with an Arab leader's dream. His name is Yusuf Saladin, and he receives a vision that the result of his jihad hinges on the presence of his niece in the Fertile Crescent. Aside from the fact that she's living in England and only half-Arab, his task is pretty simple: kidnap her, and bring her to Jerusalem, and the cause of Islam will prevail. She's the daughter of his dead sister, who eloped with a Frankish knight and denounced her Muslim heritage. And since he couldn't fulfill his oath to bring back the mother, he's determined to lavish all his dubious regard upon her half-English daughter.
Rosamund is barely past twenty, living happily with her father and her two cousins, Godwin and Wulf, and unaware that the clouds of evil are about to break over her peaceful existence. The brothers D'Arcy are twins, brave knights, and staunch lovers.
There's only one problem: they both love their cousin Rosamund.
From the beginning of this plot, I tipped the proverbial hat to Haggard, because he set up an unorthodox love triangle. The fact that two men love the same woman has been done before, but in the case of these two brothers, they have sworn their love and devotion to each other as well as to Rosamund, no matter the outcome. That won him four gold stars from chapter two--or three--or wherever it began. She tells them to wait for her decision two years--and then she'll either marry the one she loves, or she'll marry the one that's left.
But due to a cruel trick, Saladin's men kidnap her, murdering her father, and drugging the two Frankish knights to insensibility. When they awake and follow her, they find that she is already sailing away, and they set off to the Middle East to rescue her from her uncle's hands. She is now known as Lady Rose of the World, niece of Saladin, and Princess of Baalbec
Once arrived, they find help in the form of a strange widow-woman (young and beautiful, I might add) known as Masouda. She seems to have an acquaintance with an ruler of the area they wish to ask for help--Al-Jabal, whose reputation for cruelty is widely spoken of. Masouda is a strange woman, with a strange mind and an alluring past, neither of which she cares to explain. But she has the right connections, and so she sets out to help them in their quest to rescue the Lady Rosamund. And fairly soon, it becomes quite evident that it's not for Rosamund's sake she risks her life.
Any more would be telling. ;)
In her company, the brethren Godwin and Wulf set out to rescue their cousin Rosamund from the clutches of Al-Jabaal, the cruel kindness of her uncle, and the danger to be found as a Christian in a Muslim land. From the sands of the desert to the battle of Jerusalem, their trusty swords unite to bring her safely home again--until a couple of unexpected twists threaten to separate the brethren and make a tragic end to their quest.
It's an epic tale, and a heartrending drama, written in classic Haggard style.
Oh, aye, this is a lovely tale, and the brethren are staunch examples of Christian knighthood. I highly esteemed them both--but I guessed correctly. :)
The widow Masouda deserves special mention as the best of the whole lot--her humor, bravery, and gorgeous personality captured my attention from her very first scene. She is a woman, and though Rosamund was...well... sweet, Masouda showed a worth of gold and diamonds.
Haggard kept our attention until the very last page. And in spite of it's romantic propensities, this is no cheesy joy-ride. Read it at your own risk, with the full knowledge that you may endure anguished grief or heights of joy caught up in the saga. It's the type of story that grips you no matter the outcome--though you may come away battle-bruised and weary, you wouldn't trade knowing the brethren for all of Rosamund's jewels. The author winds you up so emotionally in the drama that no matter the outcome, you finish slightly out of breath.
While I was in suspense, I staunchly believed that the brethren they lived, or the brethren they died. In my mind there was no separating the two of them. But which (if any) of the outcomes actually takes place, who is Rosamund's man of choice, and the reason for Masouda's loyalty, I leave you all to discover. You will struggle right alongside them.
And trust me, you won't want to miss it.