A Journey Through the 12th Century


The Road to Jerusalem by Jan Guillou is the first book in the Crusades trilogy, set in the 12th century. The story follows Arn Magnusson, a young nobleman in Sweden destined for greatness. Born into the powerful Folkung clan, Arn receives an exceptional education at the Varnhem Abbey, where he learns both religious doctrine and the art of warfare. His path takes an unexpected turn when he falls in love with Cecilia, a noblewoman, and their forbidden relationship leads to Arn being sentenced to serve 20 years as a Knight Templar.

This richly detailed historical novel brings the 12th-century world vividly to life. Guillou masterfully blends historical accuracy with engaging storytelling, creating a narrative that is both educational and entertaining. Arn Magnusson is an interesting protagonist, whose journey from the serene life in a monastery to the brutal realities of the Crusades is fascinating.

Jan Guillou’s descriptions of medieval Sweden and the Holy Land and his historical details are impressive. The contrast between the two settings is striking, and Guillou’s meticulous research shines through, providing readers with a deep understanding of the period. The characters are well-developed, each with their own motivations and struggles. Arn’s growth from a naïve young man to a seasoned warrior is believable and relatable. Cecilia’s plight back in Sweden adds emotional depth to the story, highlighting the harsh realities faced by women during this time.

This novel not only tells one man’s story but Sweden’s as well. Christianity was still a new religion in this region in the 1100s. The politics are challenging, and tribal life is described within the context of its time. The references to Swedish culture, especially the names, add a layer of authenticity that I enjoyed.

Interestingly, Guillou, the son of a French Resistance member and himself a renowned journalist, once faced accusations of involvement with the KGB. The Crusades trilogy garnered phenomenal success in Sweden, and filmmakers adapted it into two Swedish movies and an extended TV series.

I felt disappointed by the lack of content about the Crusades, which was why I wanted to read this book. I learned a lot about the Knights Templar, the best force of knights that ever rode with lance and sword in the Holy Land. The Knights Templar never surrendered and did not fear death. To them, their war was holy and the instant they died in battle, they would enter Paradise.

Some readers might find the level of historical detail overwhelming. Honestly, I found the book to be a snoozer. Maybe I’ll find book number two more captivating.

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