Note: I received this book for free, specifically to review it.
As a History major, I have certainly learned a thing or two about the Crusades. The basic gist? There were a lot of them, and they were–as Sleiman puts it– “messy”. Even during a class on the Crusades, it can be challenging to keep them all straight, and it becomes far more difficult when you’re not in class anymore. They seem to just combine into one jumble of violence, religious zeal, prejudice, and hardship (for people of all ages, not just men).
With that ‘jumble’ in mind, I was eager to educate myself again as I read Courageous. Sleiman does not disappoint: although there’s not exactly an enormous history lesson in the book, I learned a lot about the children’s crusades in particular–and from a variety of perspectives. The book’s plot focuses on Rosalind and Randel, two young people who are (in essence) the chaperones for a young visionary, Sapphira, and the other children who have been permitted to accompany her. On a quest to save several prisoners in the Holy Land, the group (bolstered by a small fighting force, in keeping with Sapphira’s noble status) leaves Northern Britannia to achieve their goal.
Sleiman in no way makes the journey easy. Several of the characters die, and the entire group faces a variety of struggles–including challenges against their faith. But one particular challenge manifests itself in the relationship between Rosalind and Randel: the ability to forgive oneself. Both Rosalind and Randel have committed sins that they punish themselves for–and both have, in turn, convinced themselves that they do not deserve love or marriage.
As the two characters find themselves getting closer to their religious convictions on the journey, they also find themselves getting closer to each other. A cliche, yes; however, while this burgeoning romantic relationship is one that is clearly outlined in the book’s description (and one that manifests itself early on in the story with a ‘fake’ relationship), the romance’s similarity to a typical modern romance-novel ends there. Sleiman artfully manages to weave together multiple characters’ perspectives, and introduces enough problems to ensure that Rosalind and Randel’s relationship actually takes a back-burner many times in the book. There’s also none of the passive-aggressive tension that most fictional couples experience; Rosalind and Randel are great friends from the start, and there are no arguments between them. Their friendship actually lasts throughout the novel, which is truly refreshing. The only obstacle to their happiness is each person’s respective guilt; in short, both Rosalind and Randel are convinced that they don’t deserve the relationship–and the reader is convinced that they could both use a little therapy.
The book’s main relationship is unique in that it is both subtle and consistently amicable; however, the other relationships are often less so, creating plenty of petty drama to entertain readers in between attacks. Sleiman has created an impressive roster of characters, and juggles them without any observable tension or hastiness in the story. She actually manages to add a bit of depth to almost every character–even those who only have a few lines–and also has the ability to aptly describe the perspectives of characters who are in very different situations and age ranges!
The plot has an excellent progression, introducing each theme–romance, drama, humor, and battles–at just the right time. As soon as you start wondering what’s going on with a certain character or how a certain relationship is faring, Sleiman brings it back–almost as if she had read your mind. The language is also a nice mix between modern language and traditional speech patterns (and Sleiman does recognize the intentional mix in her historical notes). One thing that particularly struck me about Courageous was the rich, vivid descriptions: with only a sentence or two, Sleiman often manages to describe a scene in a way that is both very unique and, somehow, dead-on in accuracy.
In addition, while the religious aspects of Sleiman’s story are virtually unavoidable, strong religious convictions don’t seem particularly necessary as a reader. You may not care much for organized religion–but you could probably still enjoy this book, particularly if you have any interest in the Crusades or the normal (as well as the abnormal) people who participated in them.
Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. I had expected an overwrought love story, with a pretty predictable plot and just a smattering of historical information; instead, I was exposed to a companionable story that was exciting, well-written, and riddled with plot twists. Well done, Mrs. Sleiman; I’ll be looking into your other books, including the other two in this series!