Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Brethren by H Rider Haggard

Edit: When I wrote this review I was unaware that I had read an edited version of this book. This is a review of the Christian Liberty Press The Brethren only. A review of the original is coming soon.

Haggard's stories are sometimes more and sometimes less worthwhile, but always terrific fun. Of them all, this must be my favourite.

It tells the tale of Godwin and Wulf, brothers and knights in England just before the Third Crusade. Their uncle, Sir Andrew D'Arcy has been in the Holy Land; and he brought back with him a bride of royal Saracen blood: the sister of Saladin himself! Rosamund D'Arcy, the daughter of this union, lives happily with her father and cousins, beloved by all but especially by the brethren...until Saladin, conceiving a superstition that his niece may save him from a great downfall, sends a band of men to snatch her back to the Holy Land.

When they find her gone and her father dead, Godwin and Wulf swear to put aside their rivalry for her affections and travel to the Holy Land to find her. Their way is fraught with peril and adventure (naturally) and they find it necessary to take a guide—the widow Masouda, who leads them through secret fortresses, single combat, and underground passages to find again their cousin Rosamund. But Saladin isn't about to give her up easily, and untold perils still lie ahead...

I don't suppose it will surprise you to hear that one of the things I most love about this book is the melodrama, piled on with a master's hand. Which of the brethren will Rosamund choose? Will Saladin really behead her rather than see her marry one of them? What is Masouda's mysterious past, that “woman with the secret face and eyes that have looked on fear”? Why did she risk her life for our heroes? Will Godwin ever get a clue? These questions and the gripping plot will have you glued to the page.

I also love the characters. Godwin and Wulf are the classic cool/hot pair: Godwin is the intellectual, more devout man and Wulf is the stronger warrior. Both are tested during the story: Godwin's high-minded austerity is softened, while Wulf is forced to rise above an easy-going levity.
As for the girls, Rosamund is no pushover, but the Widow Masouda is magnificent. As fearless as she is beautiful, she always has something up her sleeve, whether it's a knife or a brilliant-yet-simple escape plan.

It's been a while since I read this book, but the thing that struck me when I first read it is that although the main characters fight and battle nobly throughout, it is through suffering and self-sacrifice that all four of them triumph, not through strength of arms. The result is a book that is both powerful and right.

I don't want to give you the impression that The Brethren pretends to be anything more than fun; it doesn't. But as far as I can tell, it's fun of the very highest standard, fun that does what fun should do: shows us what obedient and fearless virtue looks like. I highly recommend it.


wolf said...

My favourite book of h.rider haggard,which is placed after 'The people of the mist'. Its realy mindblowing..

Suzannah said...

H'mm, I picked up "The People of the Mist" at a booksale last year. I'm looking forward to reading it!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this. (If your sites have tracking cookies) I use your site a lot to help me think of ideas for my high school book reports (and sometimes to re-calibrate myself in the book). Thanks!

Suzannah said...

So glad you find it useful!


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