The Black Rose sheds light on three cultures

In The Black Rose novelist Thomas B. Costain takes readers back into the Dark Ages with a romantic tale that sweeps from England to China.

The bastard son of a Crusader, Walter of Gurnie hopes to make a fortune in the Far East so he can come back to England and be somebody.

The Black Rose by Thomas B. Costain

Doubleday, Doran, 1945. 403 pages. 1945 bestseller #5, 1946 bestseller  #8. My grade: B-.


Walter  gets caught up in the common people’s fight for justice against the nobles.

Dust Jacket of The Black Rose
This novel was on my parents’ bookshelves.

When their role becomes known, Walter and his sidekick, Tristram, skeedaddle.

Walter and Tristram hook up with a caravan led by Mongolian General Bayan of the Hundred Eyes. The party includes 81 girls being sent as a present to Kubla Khan.

Walter and Tristram help Maryam, a girl sired by a Crusader, to escape. Walter marries her.

The trio make a fortune in China.

Then the men get separated from Maryam and return without her to England.

The Black Rose would be worth reading just for its comparison of the cultures of West, Middle-East, and Far East in later 13th century.

Neither the characters nor the plot is believable, but Costain moves things along quickly so readers don’t have much time to notice. The result is an entertaining novel with some educational value slipped in.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni


The Saracen Blade is dull and dumb

Frank Yerby’s speciality is novels about men and women who rise from poverty to wealth, fame, and marital bliss through their brilliance, loyalty, and sexual prowess.

Yerby sets The Saracen Blade in the 13th century. Pietro di Donati, a blacksmith’s son, is born on the same day and in same town as the baby who will become Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire.

In that era, the aristocracy ruled by violence, usually having become aristocrats by violence. Though slightly built, inclined to intellectual rather than physical pursuits, Pietro becomes part of the violent world in which kingdoms clash, religions compete, and the poor suffer the consequences.

Pietro seeks his fortune in the only way boys of his era know: attaching himself to powerful knight and hoping to rise with him. For 30 years, he trudges around Europe, North Africa, and Asia as squire, knight, Crusader and trader. He pauses occasionally to admire the women and to retch when someone other than himself inflicts mayhem.

When Pietro finally gets back home, his childhood sweetheart is waiting. By that time, I was ready to retch.

I recommend reading the appendix. Yerby’s notes are better than his novel.

The Saracen Blade
Frank Yerby
Dial Press (book club edition), 1952
1952 Bestseller #9
295 pages + notes
My grade: C
©2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Politics Is the Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay

The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay is a fictionalized biography of the man known to most readers as Richard the Lionhearted, leader of the Crusades.

Maurice Hewlet’s narrator tells readers in the first chapter that Richard had two natures, one deeply spiritual and the other beastly cruel. The novel elaborates on that theme.

Richard Count of Poictou is one of two living sons of King Henry of England. Richard loves Jehane Saint-Pol but his father wants him to marry to further the Angevin family’s political future. Richard agrees, then backs out on suspicion that his father is dallying with his intended bride.

Brilliant as a military strategist and battlefield leader, Richard treats his allies with less respect than he accords his soldiers. Before long, Richard has offended most of the European nobility. When he succeeds to the throne, his allies are all his enemies.

But for Jehane, Richard would have died even earlier than he did at the hands of enemies in the camp of his allies.

Hewlet’s narrator is a 12th century contemporary of Richard’s. That pose adds verisimilitude to the tale, but it makes for hard reading: familiar words are used with unfamiliar meanings, unfamiliar words pepper the prose, and critical passages are in French.

What interest there is in the novel is in the historical details, such as the fact that Richard of England didn’t even speak English.   On the whole, contemporary readers are not likely to find much in this novel to capture their interest.

The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay
Maurice Hewlet
Norwood Press, 1901
400+ pages
1901 Bestseller #8
Project Gutenberg e-book #14813
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni