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Taking The Cross

 

Taking the Cross cover

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
I received this book for free in exchange
for a fair and honest review.
I was in no way compensated for this post
as a reviewer,
and the thoughts are my own.
Taking The Cross
By
Charles Gibson
PublisherKöehler Books
Pub. Date: October 1, 2014
ISBN: 1940192277

Pages:  269
Genre:  historical fiction
Source: Received
from the publisher for a
virtual book tour on France Book Tours

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This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

      books-on-france-14   New author challenge    2014 historical fiction

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

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When you hear the word Crusade, you probably think of the Holy Land and the far from honorable violent acts Christians performed there. Another important development of the Crusades happened actually inside the frontiers of France, in the broader reaction of the Catholic Church against Catharism.

Not many historical novels dare touch this sensitive and complex topic, so I was really thrilled when I received the opportunity to read Taking The Cross. The author deals brilliantly with the topic in this fast read novel.

For his readers who would not know well this page of Christian history, Charles Gibson starts right away with a historical note. With this particular topic, I thought it was very smart to put it at the beginning of the book, instead of at the very end where you usually find that type of things.
In 1208, pope Innocent III proclaims the Crusades against the Albigensians
(Croisade des Albigeois) — the Albigensians are basically Cathars, and against the Waldensians (lay preachers), mostly located in the South of France and Languedoc. The book had fascinating scenes related to their faith.

Even though Catharism can definitely be considered a heresy, mixing Christians tenets of faith with traces of the ancient Manichaenism (with a god of good and a good of evil, to go really quick! This religion appeared first in the 3rd century in Persia), what was at stake here was more a question of power of the Catholic bishops in place, as these two movements criticized the corruption and immoral lives led by these authorities as well as by many priests.

So in 1209 a real army led by a papal legate and commander, started from Lyon on their way south (sorry, meant to do my own map for you, but google map was crawling too slow when I was working on it), first to attack the city of Béziers and his lord Raimon Roger Trencavel, viscount of 3 major cities.

Chapters alternate about the horseman Andreas, about 17, Raimon’s châtelain, in other words his bodyguard, and Eva, a Beguine in her 20s, in the city of Orange, also in the South of France.
Raimon and his army are on their way to Montpellier where they hope to be able to talk the northern army out of  this war – imagine just Christians against Christians. Raimon’s plan is to swear fealty to Arnaud Amaury, the commander of the army, take the Cross (the expression for those accepting to become Crusaders), but then only issue empty promises to drive the heretics out of his lands, because he feels his role is to protect his own people as well as the Jewish population resident among them. Will he succeed in his plan? At what price?
On their way, they meet a strange boy and his father. What’s even more strange is that it seems the enemy seems particularly interested in them or in some secret item they may carry. What is it? Why are they interested in this?

Eva has been a Beguine (women living a religious life together, but without official vows) for about 10 years. She is very skilled at wood carving and even receives commissions from bishops for cathedrals. Her own father died as a Crusader in the Holy Land. Before he died, he made sure she would receive some of his precious items.

Both Andreas and Eva are very well defined characters, with minds and skills or their own. As really people of their period, they are both gifted with visions. The passages on these were very well done and totally rooted in the symbols of the Book of Revelation.
If you did not receive any religious education, you may totally miss them though, and just think this is mere fantasy or worse. Religion is part of culture though, and is definitely helpful to measure here the richness of this book. Just as you really have no clue about the real significance of Chartres stain-glass windows or Notre Dame cathedral portal if you can’t recognize what is depicted in them.
Eva definitely reminded me of another Medieval religious woman, so bright and talented, and whose artistic inspiration came also from powerful visions: Hildegard of Bingen. See my review on a recent historical novel on her. But what is the deep connection between Andreas and Eva? Will they meet? How?

I enjoyed tracking so many symbols in this book, up to details about a key, figuring a famous Christian symbol. And there are also powerful images in the descriptions of the events.

Talking about crusaders, you cannot avoid violence, especially here with the too famous butchery of Béziers, as it is still known today, when maybe 15,000 inhabitants were killed. The author manages to describe violent scenes of wars without overdoing it.

Like a kettle left to linger too long over a fire, anger boiled to spewing rage.
p.148

Will Andreas escape this terrible siege and warn other cities of the imminent danger? I really enjoyed the pages on Medieval strategy, and the concern the lords had of their populations. Once again, the Catholic Church powers in comparison, do not come out too good.

A key day in the novel and in the history of the region is July 22, Feast Day of Saint Mary Magdalene. You have to experience the yearly pilgrimage of gypsies at Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, just off Montpellier, on the Mediterranean Sea, to see how important her memory is still today in the region.That was definitely brilliant to have many events focus around that date.

Another important medieval element is used in the novel: the palimpsest, that is, a page of manuscript scraped to be rewritten on, simply because parchment or animal hides were very expensive. But sometimes, you may be able to decipher the original message, and you may have surprises…

A large place is also given to the specific culture of the region and its language: Occitan (la langue d’oc) – if you visit cities like Aix-en-Provence today, you will notice that even street names are still written both in modern French and in Occitan.

This extremely well researched novel also refreshed some historical pages for me: even though I gave many classes on the History of the Cistercian Order, I had really forgotten the appalling role of Arnaud Amaury (Arnaldus Amalricus or Arnold Aimery), abbot of Citeaux (mentioned here as Armand Amaury, not the way current Cistercian scholars call him).
And I had also forgotten that there were Beguines not only in the Netherlands, but also in Orange, France.

The Middle Ages is my favorite period in history, so it was really delightful to have major elements of that culture and time intertwined in this historical novel.
I also enjoyed the suspense and complexity of the veiled relationship between Andreas and Eva, and I can’t wait for volume two to see how things will turn out in Montsegur.

VERDICT: Brilliantly weaving together major elements of French Medieval culture, Taking The Cross makes you relive an essential page of the 12th century fight between the established Christian powers and the so-called heretics. Packed with powerful symbols and images, action and suspense, it will actually teach you history while leading you on a fast paced adventure.

 

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

 

Taking the Cross is a historical novel by Charles Gibson about the little-known crusade launched by the Roman Catholic Church against fellow Christians in France, a time of great religious turmoil and conflict.

In the Middle Ages not all crusades were fought in the Holy Land. A two-pronged threat to the Catholic Church was growing within Christendom itself and Pope Innocent III called for the crusade against heresy to eliminate both the Albigenses and Valdenses, two movements that did not adhere to Church orthodoxy.

Andreas, a knight who longs to go on crusade to the Holy Land, finds himself fighting against one in his French homeland. While Andreas wages war for the lives and religious freedom of his people, a battle rages within his soul.

Eva, a young woman of a new religious order, the Beguines, discovers a secret message within a letter about the death of her father in the Holy Land. As she learns more of her father, she is forced to confront the profound and perilous spiritual inheritance he has bequeathed to her. A legacy for which she must fight.

Hearing of the feats of Andreas, Eva senses her inheritance may lead her to him.

Filled with battles of the flesh and the spirit, Taking the Cross reveals a passionate aspect of Medieval times where some fought ardently for the freedom of others. [provided by the author]

NB: to know more about The Languedoc, where the novel takes place, come over and read the author’s fascinating presentation of this region on my other post

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Taking the Cross - Charles GibsonCharles Gibson first started reading about history and geography when he was seven.
He wrote his first short story at the age of nine.
He continues to read and write whenever he can.
Charles has spent many years researching the Middle Ages and the Crusades,
and has traveled to the Languedoc region in France.
He has combined the passions of history and geography and prose to finish his first novel, Taking the Cross.
It takes place during the summer of 1209 in France.
Charles Gibson has previously written for the inspirational book series God Allows U-Turns
as well as for a Minnesota newspaper.
He also works as a project manager for a medical device company.
He also loves travel writing,
and would like to start his own magazine some day about travel as a journey through life.
The dominant theme of his writing is freedom.
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free;
therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”

He lives in Minnesota with his lovely wife and energetic sons.
He can be reached at cg [at] charlesgibson [dot] net

Visit his website. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter , Google +

Send him your questions and comments.

 

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