Book Review: The Soldier's Cross by Abigail J. Hartman

15 October 2012

The story of Henry V, the Hundred Years War, and the Battle of Agincourt in particular all hold a special place in my heart. From a young age, I can recall my father reciting the St. Crispin's Day Speech from Shakespeare's play with great vim and vigor at nearly all times of the day. I feigned annoyance for a time, but soon found the vivid words working themselves into my soul. Now I and many of my family members can recite the speech on our own, and Kenneth Branagh's edition of Henry V remains one of our favorite films. So when I heard that the brilliant Abigail* herself had written a book based during this period, I couldn't keep myself from purchasing a copy.

The Soldier's Cross
By Abigail J. Hartman
*Summary taken from the back of the book
(For more information, visit the book's website.)

The Soldier's Cross
1415 A.D.

Fiona's world is a carefully built castle in the air, made up of the fancies, wishes, and memories of her childhood. It begins to crumble as she watches her brother march away to join in the English invasion of France. It falls to pieces when he is brought home dead.

Robbed of the one dearest to her and alone in the world, Fiona turns to her brother's silver cross in search of the peace he said it would bring. But when she finds it missing, she swears she will have it and sets out on a journey across the Channel and war-ravaged France to regain it and find the peace it carries.

My Thoughts: What I loved best about both this book and Jenny's Shadow Things was how much more there is to each story than originally hinted. The original theme is kept, but the story possesses such depth and so many characters that I never imagined when I first set out to read it. As each layer is pealed back, there is another more beautiful one found beneath, and every gossamer sheath is threaded with the rest so that no piece feels out of place.

But Abigail's talent for word-crafting goes far beyond that. Nearly every scene she writes, every small conversation, every slight glance has the potential to be brought back into the story at a later point. This gives The Soldier's Cross a comfortable feeling of completeness, and though the book may sway to a separate path for a time, it always bears weight later on.

My favorite characters, undoubtably, were French Pierre and his mute Germanic wife, Leah. Pierre is boyish still, a child in men's clothing, but he struggles to act like a grown man, which often gives him the appearance of haughtiness. Leah's beautiful spirit and gentle nature make her far more eloquent than most, despite her inability to form words with her tongue. Their marriage was not one of choice — Pierre was tricked into marrying Leah by her brother — but over time their love grows and puts vein-like cracks in the ice between them. Fiona's time in Gallandon was the part of the story that I loved best because of this.

Pros: Abigail could well be considered a talented writer in any sphere, and I found her book to be better written than several historical novels by veteran adult authors. I was expecting it to be good; what I was not expecting was just how good. The Soldier's Cross drew me in with its wonderful description, memorable characters, and riveting plot. I now want to recommend it to nearly everyone I know.

Cons: The scenes in the convent when Fiona is undergoing her conversion were rather formal and stiff at times. I understand that much of this was new to Fiona, and we are seeing the story through her eyes, but the Mother Superior still made Christianity sound a bit like a grim list of rules. We as the reader hear much about Jesus and His crucifixtion on the cross — it is the center of the story, after all — but I would have loved more detail on the grace and love involved in His sacrifice.

(There are a few instances of swearing, as well as some described bloodshed. One woman asks Fiona if she is a "woman of the world", but does not go into further detail about what that entails. I don't consider these to necessarily be cons, but I'm including them here so that they might be acknowledged just the same.)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I recommend this book for ages 12+

A Bit O' Reading For the Day:
"God has arranged strange ways for some of us to find him." — The Soldier's Cross, chapter 29
*I hosted Abigail for an author interview on Literary Lane several months ago. To read it, click here.

2 epistles:

  1. The one major con you mentioned is the very one I pointed out, too, but I agree it is the only real con. It is an awesome book!

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  2. I just love Abigail's 'The Soldier's Cross' so much... and Pierre and Leah are undoubtedly my favourite characters! It is true that the place I most enjoyed the story was during Fiona's stay in Gallandon, and oh, was I not so upset with her when she decided to pursue the cross after Christopher instead of stay on... ah, but I found it a beautiful story, even when I was annoyed by Fiona's fool-hardy ways :). I also liked Giovanni and David's characters a whole lot.

    Indeed, I would say that the major con in this story is the one you pointed out, but it was also handled reverently which I found to be very important... but yes, I think the way the Reverend Mother preached the Gospel to Fiona was slightly stiff and doctrinal. Her conversion itself though I thought was well-written.

    A lovely review, Elizabeth, and I am glad you finally got to read and make a review on such a delightful book :).

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"Gracious words are like a honeycomb; sweetness to the soul and health to the body." —Proverbs 16:24

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