I first encountered Caron Guillo's excerpt as an excerpt in the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards Contest. The story of Elisabeth, a young German girl, struggling to deliver a child gotten on her by rape broke my heart. When a group of children passed her village, Elisabeth's mother urged her to join. Her step-father was contemplating selling her off somehow and Elisabeth believed that going to the Holy Lands was her only hope of redemption for her 'sins.'
She encounters two fellow crusaders, Simon, who was taken to a monastery and ran away with partial copies of the Holy Texts in his possession. These were writ by his own hand at peril of his life. And Hugo, a large young man who too painfully reminds Elisabeth of her attacker. The three of them form an uneasy alliance and attempt to bring some order to the chaotic camp of youngsters who are following Nicolas of Cologne.
At Genoa, when Nicolas's promise to part the sea for them to pass fails, the three travel on to Marseilles where they use Simon's texts to purchase passage across the sea from merchants. Hugo is 'drafted' into soldiery, Simon and Elisabeth are sold as slaves to the very Muslims they came to fight.
Hugo's doing what he came there to do. War's not quite what he expected, with injuries and deaths of the young men beside him and then his own wounding, it's clear victory will be hard-won if at all. Then, his friend finds a Muslim woman hiding in the streets and takes her back to their hideout and forms a relationship with her.
For the already-traumatized Elisabeth, enslavement is almost too much to bear. She refuses to learn the language and is referred to as "Trouble" by her owners and fellow slaves.
Simon, on the other hand, is purchased by a kindly master who teaches him their language and teaches Christianity to his master and the other slaves in return.
"An Uncommon Crusade" is not just a story of three people on an impossible mission. This book's written by a Christian author who's teaching us some pertinent lessons on life. Forgiveness is key here. "Love thy enemies" changes both parties in unexpected and happy ways. Simon's lesson to Elisabeth on forgiving yourself is equally powerful.
Personally what breaks my heart is we are still dealing with these issues after 800 years' time. Girls who get raped are still getting blamed -- and often blaming themselves. We're still hating the Muslims and some are even advocating 'crusades.' The world just hasn't changed enough in all this time, but authors like Ms. Guillo give me hope that some people get the message and are passing it on.