Former Ocean Springs School District Superintendent and author Robert E. Hirsch is back with another book in his Black Monk series, “God’s Scarlet Fury.”
Hirsch once again takes us back in time, 1097 to be precise, asking us to join a Holy Crusade against the Turkish Seljuk Empire, and in so doing, ensconcing us on the front lines of this historic West vs. East adventure.
Although I enjoyed the previous books, this incarnation may be the best of the lot so far (there’s another due out in the spring).
The reason is two-fold. First, we pick up with his fascinating continuing characters, including Bishop Tristian de Saint-Germain, sworn to God but in love with Mala, an extraordinary business woman who commands the attention of everyone from popes to emperors. Returning companions include Trisian’s handsome, courageous knight and brother, Guillaume, and his unruly comrades in arms, a clutch of Viking warriors who enforce Tristian’s edicts among those who would disregard them.
Second, Hirsch gives a marvelous explanation of the various crusader types, including westerners declaring with Pope Urban II, “God wills it!” and the court of Eastern Roman Emperor Alexis of Byzantium and his wife, Queen Irene, who have begrudgingly “welcomed” thousands of western knights to Constantinople to curtail Muslim encroachment on their territory.
With vivid descriptions, Hirsch reveals some of the worst crusaders — Tafur, a perverse raider, and Lord Desmond Dulac, a haughty French knight, both with a seething hate-on for Tristian. But also presented in all their bloody glory are the Muslim leaders, including Mahmoud Malik and Kilij Arslan, who, like the crusaders, cannot win for losing due to the infighting between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
Hirsch relates both the beauty and depravity of medieval Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, as well as the well-intended and bloody mercilessness of Islamic followers at that time.
Together, they cause the deaths of thousands of innocent children and other non-combatants, many of whom are slaughtered in mass by both sides, or raped over and over before being consigned to a life of sexual slavery by the Turks.
Turkish depravity is witnessed first-hand by two new characters, Greek refugees Anglaia and Christos, who scurry across a continent fleeing murderous Turkish hordes. And Hirsch relates battles, such as the famous struggles at Nicaea and Dorylaeum, so that the reader sees axes split skulls and hears the screams of the slaughtered with bone-chilling accuracy.
Rarely in literature have readers been so thoroughly immersed in blood and gore as they are in this historic novel; giving them an opportunity to understand what these crusades were really like to those who lived and died during them. But theses horrors are relieved in the tender scenes between Tristian and Mala and Guillaume and Irene, as Hirsch demonstrates that he is as at home in characters’ bedrooms and throne rooms as he is on blood-drenched battlefields. The characters, good and bad, are all well-developed, the dialogue brutally realistic and the scenes set with clarity of description.
As one cynical refugee says to another, “You’ll learn the truth about God in time … If you live.” And anyone taking “God’s Scarlett Fury” to his fireside or to her bedside will experience the crusades as closely as possible without having been there.
‘God’s Scarlet Fury’
By Robert E. Hirsch
The Dark Ages Saga of Tristan de Saint-Germain (Book 4)
Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: W & B Publishers Inc.; Book 4 edition (October 18, 2017)