Artis-Ann , Features Writer

‘Honorable And Obedient’ : The Broken Cross By Jordan Neary

I try to approach books with an open mind, willing to travel through alien locations, meeting people with whom I would not normally interact, in situations I might never otherwise encounter. I am often pleasantly surprised although I admit there are some worthy works which simply don’t appeal. Tastes differ and while I think of my reading taste (and my music) as being somewhat eclectic, even I have my limits - but a true adventurer should never say never. The Broken Cross is not something I would naturally pick up but it came into my hands and as I have said before, a book is a book. The blurb made this novel sound intriguing enough for me to turn to Chapter One. It’s historical, just not my normal period, being post-1066, at the time of the first Crusade. When I think of the Crusades, I admit images of Richard the Lionheart spring to mind, and in turn, Robin Hood (Costner or Flynn: who’s your favourite?) and his merry band of men (and Marian), but I can assure you there are no green tights in evidence in this historical tale, although there is some swashbuckling and a usurper or two.

He sets off as a boy, merely seventeen years old, and by the end, he is most certainly a man...
I found the beginning laborious, with ancient names to get used to and foreign names with which I was totally unfamiliar but, as many novels about this period are lengthy and hard going, and this was short, more of a novella, I resisted the urge to give up. As it turned out, human nature is what it is, whatever the setting, and the reader cannot help but be drawn to the protagonist, the aptly named Cristo, faithful to his God and wholly believing in the Crusades. He has left home to join the army of the faithful and is willing to march with men who might otherwise have been his enemy but who in this case, share his resolution to secure the Holy City of Jerusalem, whatever the cost. He is full of religious fervour and crusading zeal.

Cristo, a Saxon, swears an oath of allegiance and allies himself, from the beginning, with men who are not his natural friends but who share the best and most honorable of motives as they set off, together, on their journey to Jerusalem. Following orders, undergoing training, suffering mal de mer… if not for the medieval regalia, Cristo could actually be a new recruit to any number of wars. Despite being mocked for his heritage, he is a quick and eager worker, brave and resourceful and he secures the respect of the men he is with, if not their friendship. He sets off as a boy, merely seventeen years old, and by the end, he is most certainly a man; at twenty, he has already achieved ‘the goal of a lifetime’. This is a real bildungsroman.

Enemies are not necessarily who you expect them to be...
Neary gives an authentic description of a difficult and arduous journey as the Crusaders face their enemies in skirmishes and battles, lay siege when necessary, negotiate peace and learn to compromise on anything except securing Jerusalem. Neary does not labour the detail, however; there could have been blood and guts aplenty but this novella is character led and the main character discovers betrayal and victory can go hand in hand while friendship and loss are equal partners. You can remain faithful to your own ideals with, and sometimes despite, those around you.

Cristo becomes someone with whom we can identify, as he struggles to stay true to his values. He experiences customs and places which are totally unfamiliar to him and he has to re-evaluate his ideas at times, to see things from a different perspective without losing sight of his own principles and tenets. Enemies are not necessarily who you expect them to be – human qualities are more important when accepting others who share a different faith from you. He never questions his motivation for joining the Crusade but when he faces a scene, not of rape and pillage, which would be acceptable for a conquering army of the time, but of ‘wholesale murder and slaughter’ he cannot sanction it. His Christian faith does not condone the merciless massacre of innocents, of unarmed people who are of no threat to you. Having made and lost friends along the way, it is the loss of one true friend and the circumstances of his death which finally convince Cristo that his role in the Crusade has come to an end – it is time to leave the citadel and go home - but he will choose his own route and journey alone.

This novella will have limited appeal but I felt rewarded for sticking with it. Cristo sets out full of righteous intent, sure of his purpose and surrounded by like-minded compatriots but ironically, by the end, he is alone, not knowing which direction he should take – perhaps setting the scene for a sequel.

The Broken Cross is published by Matador