Pros: Lots of interesting history; interesting main characters
Cons: Very poor pacing; inconsistent feel; one-dimensional villains; more murmuring?!
Rating: 2 out of 5
I almost always write my own synopsis of a book’s premise rather than quoting the back of the book, but in this case I’m going to quote. I find myself not wanting to slog my mental feet through a recap of the plot from David Gibbins’s Crusader Gold (not a good sign), particularly since it took me the better part of a week to get through this book, whereas usually such a novel would take me a day or two.
Marine archaeologist Jack Howard and his crack team of experts have uncovered a surprising clue to the location of history’s most elusive and desired treasure: the fabled lost golden menorah of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, in a dusty cathedral library, someone unearths a long-forgotten medieval map. Together the two discoveries will solve an ancient mystery that reaches from the fall of the Roman Empire to a Viking warship’s last stand—and spark a race to stop a present-day Nazi conspiracy of staggering proportions.
Sounds exciting, yes? Certainly I thought the premise had promise. Unfortunately, while I did find the main characters interesting and attention-worthy, and the history was complex and fascinating, the rest of the book felt like tissue paper trying vainly to hold these jewels into some semblance of a whole skein.
The pacing was entirely off. Most of the book is loaded down with pages and pages of complex historical exposition disguised as dialogue. When excitement does happen, it feels sudden, jarring, and out-of-place with all of the information-dumps. I do enjoy learning historical and technical information through novels, but this book went overboard in my opinion. In particular, it see-sawed back and forth between over-explaining and repeating information (I hate it when characters ask to be reminded of information they already know simply as an excuse to explain things for the reader—that’s the worst sort of authorial laziness) and skipping over things as though the author suddenly realized he needed to speed things up; unfortunately he often skipped just the wrong information, leaving things confused.
There are two distinct “feels” in this book that don’t jibe with one another. The over-explaining of historical and technical portions of the book gives the feel of an ultra-real adventure novel in which the author wants you to know that everything he writes is absolutely possible. However, everything having to do with the bad guys (the Nazis) in this book is one-dimensional and overblown—something you might be able to get away with in a brain-candy thrill-ride, but not in a ‘realistic’ adventure. In addition, the main characters find their way through the plot courtesy of just enough improbable coincidence and happenstance that such ultra-realism is similarly stretched to the breaking point. Crusader Gold really needs to be one or the other: quick brain-candy thrill ride with just enough information to make it somewhat real, or ultra-realistic info-fest with all aspects given equal attention.
Speaking of Nazis, the bad guys are so utterly, completely overblown and one-dimensional that they might as well be rabid dogs. Yes, Nazis are evil and horrible and we all get that, but if you can’t write them up as individuals with a little depth then you need to pick another bad guy.
As if all of that weren’t enough, the ending is quite anticlimactic. Obviously I won’t give away the details, but suffice it to say that just when you’re sure you still have some interesting mileage left because the characters haven’t yet found their objective, it’s all cut short and solved through a little dialogue.
There’s plenty of interesting history lessons in here and some fun characters, and I really would like to be able to recommend Crusader Gold because of those. Unfortunately, most of the other aspects of the book are pretty frustrating.
Oh, and, as a side note: what’s with all the murmuring? This is a quirk Rollins has too: it seems like every single character murmurs his or her way through every page (well, they mumble in Rollins’s case, but same difference). It’s a wonder anyone ever manages to hear what anyone else is saying.
Note: This was a review of an ARC (Advance Reading Copy) and thus I cannot review it for presence or lack of editing & typos.