Stephen Lawhead is a prolific author. As a teen I always wanted to read his fantasy books but never had the opportunity. I recently borrowed his historical novel, The Iron Lance, from my local library (Pennwood). I’m sure if the librarians stumble across this post they curse my name – the book is long overdue. But in my defense – the volume totals nearly five hundred pages and it’s not a oversize font!1Libraries generally max out your fine. I realized I could keep returning it and getting new fines or just hold onto it and return it when I was all done and pay my fine once. Keeping it is cheaper. Of course, I could also just return it on time…and pay no fine I’m a fan now and intend to read all his volumes – historical novels and otherwise.
The Iron Lance is part of a trilogy about The Celtic Crusades. In this first volume Lawhead follows several different storylines. The first is a macro view of the historical environment – the battles and political intrigues in the crusade that took Jerusalem. The second (and largest) focuses in on Murdo Ranulfson who is forced to stay at home while everyone else goes on Crusade, but in the end must travel to Jerusalem as well due to dark circumstances at home. A third tells of a mysterious secret order in nineteenth century England which appears to be a latter incarnation of the Cele De, a monastic order, which Murdo encounters on his journeys. Finally, the story at times returns back to the homeland to discuss the fate of the womenfolk left behind under the cruel oversight of corrupt churchmen.
The book feels epic in scope and the writing is both detailed and attractive. While not the thrill-a-minute offered by writers like Michael Crichton or Frank Peretti, for those who enjoy historical novels (such as those by Jeff Shaara) it will be a sheer joy to read. Lawhead manages to bring many famous characters and events to life – something which is extremely difficult during the especially convoluted middle ages when rulers and kingdoms are made and deposed faster than one can blink.
It is worth noting that Lawhead comes from a Christian background, yet he spares few blows when striking at the hypocrisy and bloody carnage perpetrated on behalf of the Church and in the name of Christ. While he attempts to balance the cruelty portrayed on all sides he isn’t afraid to note the boredom and lechery so common. His book, in fact, seems almost anti-Christian as times but much later in the book he significantly develops Christian themes. In part, he is only being faithful to the history of the times – which was thoroughly permeated with Christianity among the Western nations. For those who are Christians the read will be both challenging and encouraging. For those who aren’t, he treads lightly and doesn’t preach to the reader. Preferring only to illuminate beliefs and systems within a narrative that carries it own apart from the religious elements2Unfortunately, many Christian novels are written to portray a point rather than carrying a point in their portrayal. The former is fine, but it is oftentimes done so poorly that the work cannot be considered art or even good writing. Lawhead does not succumb to any such foibles.