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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Fumare Book Review: Crown of the World, Book 1

Last month, a commenter argued that I don't highlight any good things coming out of Ave Maria University, and he brought to my attention the book Crown of the World -- Book 1: Knight of the Temple, written by Nathan Sadasivan, a current AMU student. I hadn't heard about the book and I was intrigued by it, so I tracked down a copy and have just finished reading it.

As the book's back cover tells us, Nathan is a current undergraduate student at Ave Maria University studying Classical Languages and Literature. He began writing Crown of the World when he was only 15 years old. Published last year, Knight of the Temple is the first and only published book of Crown of the World, which appears to be a planned trilogy. I'll keep my eyes open for the other books when they come out.

Knight of the Temple is set in the Holy Land during the time of the Crusades, and centers on the life of Godfrey, a young Knight Templar who has given up a normal life and the opportunity of marriage in order to take up a vow of celibacy and the vocation of a warrior saint. A variety of kings, knights, and other characters enter in and out of the book, with the author recounting plenty of battles, fights, and jousts.

I have to start by giving the author high, high praise for successfully writing and publishing a 283-page book by the age of 19. It's an incredibly impressive accomplishment which deserves congratulations. The author also shows skill in narrating an entertaining and action-filled plot, while juggling many colorful characters against the fascinating backdrop of the Crusades. The author has much better knowledge of this time period than I, and he does a good job of conveying a sense of historical realism. However, my final impressions of the book are mixed due to what I thought were some flaws in the book.

First, the book could benefit from a final thorough editorial review: I noticed several typographical errors and I got distracted by a few minor plot inaccuracies which could have been easily corrected (e.g., there are five horses in the stable, and yet six riders gallop out; a person leaves a conversation, and then returns and knows what was said while he was gone.)

The larger difficulty with the book is that the author seems to take on more than he can handle. Each chapter is written from the perspective of a main character, and the book shifts from one main character to another every couple of pages -- by my count, there are a total of 8 different main characters. The author tries to give all of these main characters, and some of the secondary characters, depth by having them undergo significant character development. Unfortunately, I found that these character changes often occurred too quickly, at odd times, and with an insufficient foundation. In short, at times the characters didn't behave naturally. For example, two characters unrealistically have a deep meaningful conversation and reminisce about their childhoods in the middle of a major battle, or a character goes from contentment to rage and back again within a short time without adequate explanation for why the change occurred. Many times, I felt like I was missing or not understanding the motivations of the characters, what made them "tick." I wonder whether the author's youth and lack of experience is a contributing factor to this weakness in the book, and whether in a few more years, the author will be better able to describe human emotion with more realism and greater nuance.

Moreover, I found that the author leaves many significant plot points unanswered (why did Jacques become a Templar? who tried to assassinate Andronicus and Godfrey?). The author devotes time and energy on some main characters, just to have them disappear for the rest of the book. (The most egregious instance of this is a Saracen warrior who figures prominently in the first 47 pages and then never reappears for the rest of 283-page book, with no explanation for his absence.) Even if the author plans on filling in some of these plot holes in the rest of the trilogy, at the end of this book I found myself unsatisfied and a little bewildered.

Even with my criticisms, I have to reiterate that the book is a very commendable achievement. On the whole, it is an entertaining story with exciting action scenes that provide pleasant moments of escapism. The author displays a real talent for narration, and I am certain that with time and practice, the other areas of his writing will develop.