In the year 1095 Pope Urban of Rome declared a holy war on the Muslim and Turkish infidels that have taken occupancy of the holy land of Christianity. His call for crusade has gone out across all of Europe for kings and leaders to rally their people to build a great army for God. The Scottish lord Ranulf and his two eldest sons have chosen to join the pilgrimage to liberate Jerusalem and Antioch from the infidel scourge. Ranulf's youngest son, Murdo, is left to assist his mother in looking after the long-held family estate. However, soon after the menfolk depart, the regional Bishop takes to brutally seizing the local estates and filling his coffers from their rich holdings. This begins the first book in the Celtic Crusades trilogy of author Stephen Lawhead, entitled The Iron Lance.
Young Murdo, a boy of only 14 years, in his rage at the church and their strong-armed abuse of power and rampant treachery and greed, sets out on a pilrimage of his own. His quest is to find his father and bring him back home to reclaim their lands and their honor. The trek to Jerusalem takes nearly a year by sea. Murdo's traveling companions include a trio of monks, including the wise and mentoring Brother Emlyn, and the ship's loyal captain and crew. Murdo's remarkable journey is measured by his growth from a sheltered and naive boy to a principled and directed man. He learns not only of himself but experiences much to shape his faith, including two unusual encounters with Saint Andrew and recovering the spear that pierced Jesus while he hung on the cross.
The Iron Lance is a masterful work in its character development and the lands and times in which it takes place. From Murdo, to Lord and Lady Ranulf, to Murdo's brothers Torf and Skuli, to Emlyn the monk, to emperor Alexius, to the English and Frankish kings, to Murdo's wife Ragna. Each of these people I saw as fully fleshed out and alive. From the Orkney Islands in Scotland, to Constantinople in the Byzantine empire, to Jerusalem, and to Jaffa on the Mediterranean Sea. I could picture the lands and see with clarity the settings before me. Now, onto the second book in the series, The Black Rood.