Wednesday, November 14, 2007

105. The Black Rose

By Thomas B. Costain
Rated 4 1/2 Stars

While looking for something else in my storage room I ran across a box of books by Thomas B. Costain that I had bought several years ago and then forgot I had. So I dragged them out and this morning I finished The Black Rose. It was published in 1945 and while the writing is a little dated (the herione is stupid in order to make the hero look good) it is still a darn good yarn.

From the Dust Jacket:
This exciting historical novel moves from England after the Crusades to the Orient of Kublai Khan. It's the story of a young English nobleman who fights his way to the heart of the fabulous Mongol empire and returns to find that he must choose between an English heiress and an enchanting girl of the East.

After Walter of Gurnie, batard son of the Earl of Lessford, became embroiled in the Oxford riots of 1273 he left college and sailed east to seek further knowledge and riches along the spice trails leading into the land of Cathay. He left behind the lovely Lady Engaine who had decided to marry another, but with him went his best friend, the blond archer, Tristram Griffen.

In Antioch they had to deal with the fat, all-powerful merchant, Anthemus, who arranged to send them with one of his opulent caravans into China to meet Kublai Khan's great general, Bayan of the Hundred Eyes. With them as presents for the Khan went a harem of Antioch beauties, including Maryam, daughter of an English crusader and a Grecian woman. Both Walter and Tristram fell in love with her and under Bayan's very nose helped her to escape. For this, Walter was tortured by means of the ingenious Rope Walk, but he survived it, was restored to Bayan's favor, and was made an emissary to the city of Kinsai.

In Kinsai Walter met Maryam again and married her, but in trying to get away they were separated and Walter and Tristram made the long journey back to England where they were welcomed as rich and famous heroes. Walter waited for Maryam to make her way across half the globe, but as the months slid into years he began to give up hope and to turn to his first love, Engaine. How Walter overcame the stigma of his birth and resolved the conflict of his double love make a stirring and dramatic climax.

Although the course of the narrative is marked by breathless action, this is essentially a love story, and one of great warmth and tenderness. The characters are so completely alive and believable, and the tapestry of the period is so vividly woven in the fascinating background, that the reader emerges with the sense of having actually lived for many engaging hours in the Middle Ages.

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