The Talisman – Walter Scott

“…for know, that had my assailant been in very deed the Prince of Darkness, thou wert bound not the less to enter into combat with him in thy comrade’s behalf.”

If you loved Ivanhoe, as I did, and want something similar with more Richard the Lionheart, this is it. If you, like me, love the legends of Coeur de Lion and Saladin and aren’t particularly interested in the accuracy of the details of the Crusade, this is also for you. It can be read as a prequel to Ivanhoe, though it shares only one character, or it can be read alone.

The plot is derivative if you’ve read other Walter Scott books and is somewhat a pale copy beside Ivanhoe– there’s a false accusation, several important personages incognito, hopeless love across-but-not-too-far-across social boundaries, a last-minute champion, conspiring Templars, and plenty of humor.

“…it came to that pass that he was regarded as the determined and active enemy of a nation, whom, after all, he only disliked, and in some sort despised.”

The style is, as usual, easy, eloquent, and often funny; the pacing perfect. One final twist, the protagonist turning out to be a prince in disguise, seemed to vitiate one the main conflicts, but in compensation Conrade of Montserrat (more properly Montferrat or Monferrato- the area where my mother is from) appears, albeit as an antagonist.

It’s a wonderful world to spend time in, where motives are high and vows sacred, where people on different sides of a bitter conflict can behave honorably to and even have affection for each other.

Scott is quite underrated these days, but he’s reliably entertaining and more aware of the foibles of the eras he idealizes than he gets credit for in the popular imagination.