Merrimon Book Reviews

St Bernard in a 13th century medieval illuminated manuscript

Traditional image of King Sweartgar, King of Sweden c. 1130-1155

Eric IX of Sweden
King of Sweden 1155-1160

King Charles Sverkersson's seal,
King of Sweden ca. 1161-1167

From Medieval Book Reviews
The Road To Jerusalem
The Road To Jerusalem By Jan Guillou
by Jan Guillou

Magnificent epic medieval coming of age story

In 1150, Sigrid, a woman troubled by her pregnancy, makes a bargain with God.  Later when her son Arn Magnusson miraculously recovers from a fall, she has a vision that forever changes the life of her second son, her family's business and even the future of her land, a land that will later become known as Sweden.  She sends her son to Varnhem monastery where he will spend his life in the service of God.  Cistercian monk Father Henri takes Arn under his wing, teaching him Aristotle while Brother Guilbert, a former Knight's Templar, teaches Arn the art of warfare.  Convinced that God has a plan for Arn, the brothers feel their duty is to train him for all possibulities, including a life beyond the monastery's walls.  When they send him out into the world, Arn meets and falls in love with Cecilia.  The murder of a king embroils the land in intrigue in which lords from the east and west battle one another for power, but perhaps worse than the lords are the women whose secretive battle for power ensnares Arn.  A momentary indiscretion will lead to a series of events that lead Arn away from home to battle in the Crusades.

Swedish author Jan Guillou's THE ROAD TO JERUSALEM leads into the Crusades Trilogy with a medieval coming of age story of the main hero, Arn Magnusson.  The first book in the series focuses on the development of the main character's spiritual and military growth while his love interest marks his growth from a boy to a man.  As part of the western Gotaland Folkung clan, Arn's life is situated within the larger historical context of the story of the Svealand Erik clan and the
eastern Gotaland Sverker Clan and the founding of Sweden.  As a young man raised within a monastery, Arn's worldly innocence does not leave him immune from political intrigue and maneuvering.

In THE ROAD TO JERUSALEM,  Jan Guillou incorporates the history of the time with the literary themes of arms, religion and romance so loved by medieval literature enthusiasts.  Jan Guillou creates a story that will appeal to both women and men readers through his ability to create characters with intelligence, honor, and noble hearts.  Not only is Arn himself such a lovable character but so are those who surround him from his mother to the Cistercian brothers.   Scenes showing Arn's close relationship with horses are quite moving to anyone who admires equine beauty.  From his youthful innocence, an innocence like that of Percival, Arn sees the world with fresh eyes, eyes that bring a reader into his world and his character.  Even his confessions of sin add a sense of honor, nobility and honest innocence to his character.  Father Henri's wisdom, compassion and even his sense of humbleness before God's plan make this monk a most benevolent guardian and teacher.  Father Henri is a man who has a pureness of faith yet he also understands the complexity of the moral issues before him.

In the first book, Jan Guillou prepares the ground for the next part of the story with an intimate look into Arn Magnusson's youth. Here, a reader discovers the particulars of his divine calling and those character-forming events that will take on heroic proportions in the following book when Arn becomes Templar knight in the Holy Land.  Arn's upbringing truly makes him the man he will become. 

THE ROAD TO JERUSALEM is a stunning lead-in to a medieval epic trilogy.
Jan Guillou weaves together history and fictional imagination seamlessly, taking the reader straight into the heart of medieval Scandanavia.  In creating Arn's character, Jan Guillou draws together themes from medieval literature while also giving them the substance and development to appeal to modern readers more familiar with the form of the novel than medieval genres.  After many years of reading medieval texts, this reader discovered a very special delight in the author's ability to transport me into the world he creates.  I carried this book everywhere, never wanting to put it down but also never wanting it to end either.  Even read as a stand alone, THE ROAD TO JERUSALEM is a page turner, although the ending certainly left this reader most anxious to start the second book immediately which I promptly did.    The translator has done an excellent job at rendering the Swedish text into English that flows naturally from sentence to sentence, page to page.  If you love things medieval, Jan Guillou's novel is not to be missed!
Publisher: Harper (April 21, 2009)
Other books in the trilogy: The Templar Knight (May 2010), The Kingdom at the End of the Road (summer 2011)
Translator: Steven T. Murray

Reviewed by Merrimon, Medieval Book Reviews
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