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Literature / Crusade

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Two boys. Two faiths. One unholy war..

A children's novel by Elizabeth Laird set during the Third Crusade. The book follows two boys on opposite sides of the war: Adam, an English serf in the service of a local knight in King Richard I's forces fighting to reclaim the Holy Land; and Salim, a Saracen boy and doctor's apprentice working in the camp of Sultan Saladin. Despite the divisions, the boy's paths end up crossing and an unlikely friendship develops between the two.

The book was shortlisted for the 2007 Costa Children's Book Award.


Provides examples of:

  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Lord Robert, the future baron of Fortis and Adam's master who delights in abusing those below him.
  • Big Brother Bully: Ali to Salim in the beginning.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Both the main characters survive and make it home, Adam becomes master of Brockwood and Salim goes on to be a successful doctor, but they never see each other again or even know if the other is alive. Nonetheless, they never forget each other and the book ends with each of them thinking of the other years later, hoping that they made it through and are happy wherever they are now.
    • On a wider scale, the Sultan defeats King Richard and the Crusades fail, but Saladin doesn't get to enjoy his victory and dies only a few years later. Robert also never gets his comeuppance and Salim's family — particularly his brother — are still struggling to recover, while Doctor Musa dies not long after the Crusades end.
  • Black-and-White Morality: Deconstructed. Both characters start out with this view of the war, thinking of the opposite side as barely human and almost everyone around them remains this way. However, Adam and Salim themselves gradually realise the nuances of the situation and empathise with those on the other side.
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  • Born Unlucky: Adam. His circumstances are bad enough to start off with as an orphaned bonded serf in medieval England. But almost everything that can go wrong for him - big or small - does; from finding out about Jacques's trickery and making an enemy of him, the other boys at the castle turning on him for his skill with the dogs, almost striking Lord Robert, sitting in the wrong place at the great hall, being forced to run alongside the knights while hunting and so getting left out of the Crusaders travelling groups, accidentally embarrassing Lord Guy in front of the King's officials. He lampshades this early on.
    Adam's experience in life had led him to expect very little for himself.
  • Cain and Abel: Robert and Adam. Robert loathed Adam even before discovering he was his illegitimate half-brother, does his best to cheat him out of his inheritance and ultimately tries to sell him as a galley slave as punishment for running off to rescue Robert's kidnapped daughter.
  • Cool Big Sis: Jennet has this dynamic with Adam, although they're not related by blood.
  • Family of Choice: Adam considers Jennet his sister, and acknowledges she and Tibby are the only family he really has.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Salim and Adam over the course of the book.
  • The Good King: Sultan Saladin.
  • Good Parents: Salim's parents. Khadijah is very affectionate with Salim — albeit slightly spoiling him — and Adil wisely realises that Salim's not cut out to be a merchant and arranges for him to apprentice with one of the best doctors in the country (which also gets him out of Acre before the siege). Some Deliberate Values Dissonance in that Salim mentions his father beats him, but it's clear his parents are pretty good for the standards of the time.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Doctor Musa, Salim's master. However, it takes Salim less than a day to realise his constant complaining and threats of terrible punishment are only for show, and he turns out to be one of the kindest and gentlest characters in the whole book.
  • Heroic Bastard: The already heroic Adam discovers he's the illegitimate son of Lord Guy.
  • Honorary Uncle: Adam to Tibby, as her godfather and Jennet's surrogate brother. He even adopts Tibby after Jennet's death. He also turns out to be her actual uncle, when he discovers he's Robert's half-brother. Although he cares about Tibby for Jennet's sake rather than Roberts, he's happy that they're related by blood, declaring himself her uncle "twice over."
  • Kick the Dog: Or sell the dog, as Robert gambles away Adam's beloved dog Faithful to go into the fighting pits just because he's bored and drunk. (Thankfully, Sir Ivo wins Faithful and essentially gives him back to Adam, through taking him on as a his own servant).
  • Knight In Shining Armour: Averted with the majority of the knights in the invading force, particularly Lord Robert. Played straight with Sir Ivo, Adam's later master who is repeatedly characterised as fair, noble and chivalrous, and is respected throughout the English camp.
  • Meaningful Name: Faithful, Adam's mastiff who he raises as a puppy and grows up fiercely loyal and protective of his master.
  • Mentor Archetype: Two variations, with Doctor Musa for Salim, and Sir Ivo for Adam:
    • Despite Salim initially viewing Doctor Musa as a grumpy and difficult old man, and wishing he could train as a warrior instead, he quickly grows to respect the doctor's skill, peaceful outlook and the authority he carries, and ends up following in his footsteps as his apprentice.
    • Meanwhile, Adam tries to emulate Sir Ivo's nobility and chivalry from the start, and is honoured to be his servant-come-squire. However, he later realises he can't share his blind faith or love for war, and makes peace with their different perspectives on life, while still admiring his good traits.
  • Momma's Boy: Salim initially, though he grows out of it.
  • Moral Event Horizon: In-universe Richard crosses it when, after sacking Acre, he has every prisoner - mostly starving men, women and children - slaughtered because Saladin can't raise the exuberant ransom quickly enough. The action is the last straw in Adam's belief in the Crusades and indeed his traditional Christian faith, and even the ever-noble, faithful knight Sir Ivo is disgusted by his King.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Sir Ivo is noted to treat everyone with respect and is a kind master to Adam. Adam himself, once he becomes a freedman and master of his own property, having been a serf and knowing how they feel.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Adam risks his life going into enemy territory to rescue Tibby, Robert's illegitimate daughter; miraculously succeeding against all odds. In return Robert has him thrown into prison, almost tortured and sentences him to ten years as a galley slave as "punishment." He's saved at the last minute but still.
  • Non-Action Guy: Salim, who is crippled and a doctor's apprentice in a camp full of Saracen warriors. He's initially rather resentful of this status, but comes around, as he appreciates the importance of the role and faces the true horrors of war.
    He knew in his heart that he would never be a knight, never ride gloriously into battle...But he could —- would —- become a doctor.
    • Played with regarding Adam who was initially eager to fight and trained as a squire. However, he admits he's too scared to be a true knight like Lord Guy and Sir Ivo, and after one battle is horrified by the realities of killing.
    "I don't want to be a knight!" Adam interrupted, his brow puckered with the effort of trying to think things out. "I'm not even a squire, not really. I'm just - I was - a serf. A nothing. Then a dog boy."
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Essentially the whole plot of the book, and Adam and Salim's friendship. Despite Adam initially believing the Saracen's are soulless infidels and Salim viewing the Franks as savages, both come to recognise each other as just another lonely, scared boy who is totally out of his depth and terrified for his loved ones.
  • Pet the Dog: Lord Guy isn't the kindest of Lords and frequently abuses his serfs and servants but does acknowledge Adam as his son and gives him lands of his own before he dies. Even before that, he did make an effort to take responsibility for his mistakes, arranging for Adam's mother to be married and giving Adam a job after she died which is far more than Robert did for Jennet when he got her pregnant. Sir Ivo suggests the main reason Lord Guy didn't do more was because he didn't want to dishonour his wife and was trying to be a good husband to her suggesting more honourable traits than suspected. He also has a literal case of this as Adam notices he's surprisingly gentle when dealing with his dogs.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Jennet, Adam's quasi-sister. He even plans to have her and her family come to live with him at his new manor house when they return to England. After her death he considers her daughter his responsibility and adopts her.
  • Rags to Riches: After Lord Guy acknowledges him as his bastard son, Adam goes from one of the poorest serfs in the village to owning a manor house and property with serfs of his own. Unsurprisingly he has trouble dealing with this.
    "Serfs! And a mill." The thought was so alarming that Adam recoiled. "I can't own serfs! What would I do with them? They'd never respect me. I'm a serf myself. The poorest of them all."
  • Riches to Rags: Salim's wealthy merchant family sell everything for food during the siege of Acre and escape utterly destitute.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Cruel, arrogant Lord Robert and humble, kind-hearted serf Adam. For contrast: Robert gets Jennet pregnant and refuses to help her or the baby, meanwhile Adam — who isn't even related to Jennet — promises to look after her, adopts Tibby after Jennet's death and risks his life to get her back after she's kidnapped.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Khadijah, Salim's mother. Initially presented as a typically gentle and submissive Saracen wife, when Salim rescues his family from the Acre during the siege, she's remarkably alert and resilient despite the months of starvation and trauma, insists on walking out of the city alone rather than taking the donkey like her husband and takes charge of the family and their future afterwards. In contrast, Salim's authoritarian father is much more broken and struggles to regain his past strength.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Not the dynamic of the two main characters, as they're both characterized as fairly soft hearted and thoughtful for boys of their time, eventually coming to dislike war and fighting. But both play the Sensitive Guy to Manly Men in their own camp, with Salim and his friend Ismail, a hardened Mamluk solider and Adam and his master Sir Ivo, a skilled knight. Justified as their sensitive natures are the reason Adam and Salim in particular were able to overcome the intolerance on both sides to become friends. A discussed trope at one point.
    Adam: "Sir Ivo, he's the best knight in the world...and his faith in our mission here, his love for Christ it makes me ashamed because I can't feel the same as him."
    Doctor John: "Sir Ivo's a warrior. He thinks like a soldier. For a military man like him everything's clear and simple."
  • Survivor's Guilt: Ali — thanks to the safe conduct Salim got for his family — is the sole survivor of not only his garrison, but the entire city after Richard massacres the Acre prisoners. Unsurprisingly, he's incredibly guilt-ridden and feels like a coward for not dying with his friends. He gains some comfort from Salim telling him that he lived so he can make sure everyone who died is remembered, but the epilogue indicates he never truly settled back into normal life.
  • Undying Loyalty: Adam's appropriately named dog, Faithful.
  • Working-Class Hero: Adam's low station in life has forced him to become very resilient and savvy, and he's far more introspective than the high ranking knights and lords.
    Dr John: "What an amazing thing, to hear my own thoughts in the mouth of a squire, whose whole life ought to be dedicated to fighting. I fear it's that knock on the head that's made a philosopher of you."