The Road to Jerusalem: Book One of the Crusades Trilogy, by Jan Guillou

by Peter

Finally The Crusades trilogy is available in English! This series of books about Arn Magnusson by Jan Guillou, is one of my favorite historical fiction series. I read it in Swedish a number of years ago, as it was first published. Now it is being re-released in English again, The Road to Jerusalem, by Jan Guillouexcellently translated by Steven T. Murray. This trilogy, with its fourth follow-up novel, is truly magnificent entertainment.

The Crusades Trilogy is an epic tale of power, passion, war, and glory. And it was extremely well liked in Scandinavia, where Jan Guillou is one of Sweden’s and Scandinavia’s most popular literary personalities. Guillou’s Crusades Trilogy has been translated into 20 languages and has sold 2.5 million copies in Sweden alone. Jan Guillou is also the author of the Coq Rouge novels, one of the most popular series of Swedish spy novels ever created.

Arn Magnusson is a fictional Swedish character from the Middle Ages. The series is an account of the life of Arn, a man who became a Knight Templar, fought in the Holy Land, and returned to Sweden. He was related to nobility in Sweden, and played a part in many historical events that shaped Sweden at the time. Birger Jarl, the founder of Stockholm, is fictionalized as the grandson of Arn Magnusson.

The Road to Jerusalem follows Arn Magnusson from his birth and until he sets off to Jerusalem. Arn is born in Arnäs, Sweden in the year 1150. At the age of 5, he has an accident while climbing a scaffold and is saved due to his mother’s prayers to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. The conditions stated in the prayer for their sons salvation is that he will be donated to Gods work on earth. He was to be sent to Varnhem Abbey, to which his mother has donated the land and is counted as its founder.

One of the brothers of Varnhem and Danish Vitae Scholae is brother Guilbert, a former Knight Templar, who instructs Arn in the use of the sword and the bow, as well as in the art of medieval warfare in the Holy Lands. And Arn clearly has an extraordinary talent with horse, sword, and bow. His exceptional talent in these areas makes it clear that Arn’s vocation lies outside the monastery. So he is sent home.

When he returns home from the monestary, Arn finds his habits at odds with his clan’s old and tested ways. And his family discovers that Arn is very well-versed in the art of warfare. Also, his skills are sorely needed. The country is in turmoil, and several lords are vying for power. Arn quickly becomes a pawn in the huge plays of power taking place at the time.

However, there is love as well in this novel. Arn meets the lovely Cecilia and falls in love. After Arn has fallen into sin by having sexual intercourse with two sisters – both Cecilia and her sister – before marriage, he is sentenced to go to the Holy Land as a Knight Templar and battle infidels for twenty years.

This is a fabulous historical thriller, and provides an interesting perspective on twelfth century religion and society in Sweden. Guillou masterfully immerses readers in the historical context. It is a stunning series about tough battle, brave knights, powerful and relatively independent women and treacherous kings, and the roles they played in the shaping of Sweden.

PS: According to rumors, details of a U.S. film production are likely be announced soon. And a Swedish film based on the first book, Arn: Templar Knight, has already been released. The second book in the Crusades Trilogy, The Templar Knight, is due out May 2010.

“Destined to become a classic, THE ROAD TO JERUSALEM is a brilliant, dramatic recreation of the medieval world, offering suspense, intrigue, a touching love story, and an extremely appealing young hero. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.”

–Sharon Kay Penman, New York Times bestselling author of Devil’s Brood

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