Blood Red Horse

Brief Description: 12 yo son of an English lord grows up to join King Richard’s crusade in the Holy Land, along with his father and brother and a very special war horse. First in a trilogy

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Historical Era:

Date Range: 1185-1193

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Original Publication: 2004

Suitable for Grades: 5-8th

Target Audience: Middle Grade, Teen

Librarian's Review

Twelve-year-old William de Granville, younger son of an English lord, enjoys the company of his orphaned cousin Eleanor.  His brother Gavin, four years older, will inherit the property, and is intended to marry Eleanor who also has her own lands.  William passionately studies horsemanship and this novel is a delight for horse lovers or any reader who wants to learn more about horses.  When William is old enough to acquire his own destrier (a large war horse), he surprisingly chooses a small but agile red horse named Hosanna, enduring the ridicule of his older brother at this choice.  When King Richard I comes to the throne four years later, the lord, the brothers, and their war horses are called to join the crusade to retake Jerusalem from Sultan Saladin’s Muslim forces.

The journey to the Holy Land and ensuing battle scenes are realistically portrayed, with the horrors of war contrasting against the tedium of waiting for orders amid pestilence and uncertainty.  The charismatic horse Hosanna exhibits such a calm bravery that the warriors have taken to touching the white star on its forehead for good luck.  In the Holy Land we meet Kamil, a fourteen-year-old Muslim boy who has a different perspective on the struggle, having been orphaned by previous crusaders.  He seethes with vengeful hatred, going against Saladin’s Koran-inspired principles.  Also a skilled horseman, he admires William’s Hosanna from afar until a he has a victorious skirmish with the brothers and wins the horse for himself, sparing the brothers’ lives.

Meanwhile back at the brothers’ English castle, Eleanor suffers the manipulations of the aptly named Constable de Scabious as he smudges her reputation and schemes to marry her himself, while convincing others that the lord and his heirs have been killed in the Promised Land.  She is trapped and powerless and eventually held prisoner in the castle, but not before she is able to sneak off a letter seeking help.  Will the brothers survive the war?  Will Hosanna be reunited with William?  Will they be able to return in time to rescue Ellie from her plight?

The author is very knowledgeable on horsemanship and gives the reader a you-are-there perspective on some major events in the Third Crusade, medieval castle construction,  the social order of kings, lords and knights, the role of horses in war and daily life, and a sympathetic portrayal of the Muslim point of view during the crusades.  There is a map of Europe and the Mediterranean Sea with an inset of the Holy Land in the front of the book.  This is the first book in a trilogy featuring the de Granville brothers and, (as I understand but have not yet verified) a reunion with Kamil.

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