Book Review: “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” by Rose Sgueglia

57165143A man ahead of his time who never finished the tasks that he was given as his mind was constantly racing, thinking of new ideas. This is what we consider a genius or a Renaissance Man today, but during Leonardo da Vinci’s time, it was just considered odd. Leonardo da Vinci was an enigma. He could make the impossible possible. His art seemed to leap off the canvas with its realism. However, there are still so many mysteries surrounding his life and his works. What made this one artist/inventor so fascinating for centuries? In her book, “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” Rose Sgueglia opens the curtain to reveal Leonardo da Vinci’s truth and inner circle.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I am one of those people who is familiar with da Vinci’s works, but not so much with his actual life and what made him tick. I have always wanted to read biographies about the great artists of the Renaissance, but I didn’t know where to start. This was the perfect book to start my journey into art history.

To understand da Vinci’s lifestyle later in life, we have to understand his origins. His mother was an absent figure in his life as Leonardo was her illegitimate son, but his father seemed to have taken care of him. Leonardo was trained under Verrocchio where he would learn the skills that would be vital for his art career, however, it was his insatiable appetite for exploring new subjects that would make him a polymath to many.

Sgueglia dives into the intricacies of da Vinci’s life, including his love life which has been debated for centuries. As an illegitimate son, he was not tied down to one location so he frequently traveled and would be employed by some of the greatest families in Italy, including the Borgias, the Medicis, and Ludovico Sforza. Along the way, he would create his own following of artists that were loyal to him until the bitter end. Da Vinci would also encounter fellow masters Donatello and Michelangelo as he competed for commissions.

I think Sgueglia does a decent job introducing the Leonardo da Vinci that she has gotten to know through her research. She also included interviews between her and a researcher of the Mona Lisa as well as the director of a movie about Leonardo da Vinci within this book, which I found fascinating. I think it is these interviews and including the transcripts as part of the book that sets it apart from other biographies about Leonardo da Vinci.

There were a few things about this book that I found a bit off or lacking. My big concern was the lack of illustrations of his lesser-known pieces of art and the artwork of other artists that Sgueglia references. If this is a biography about a well-known artist and inventor, then let’s celebrate the masterpieces and the inventions. I had to find the obscure artworks online while I was reading to act as a companion to get the full impact of what she was writing about. I also think it was a tad repetitive and I would have personally liked to have seen more books in the bibliography for research purposes.

Overall, I found this book was an adequate biography about Leonardo da Vinci. It is easy to read with intriguing facts that will captivate those who are new to da Vinci’s story. There is something intriguing about looking at the man behind these masterpieces and I think Sgueglia does an excellent job of showing a unique side of this artist’s life. If you want a great book that will introduce you to this polymath’s life and times, I recommend you read, “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” by Rose Sgueglia.

Book Review: “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey” by Sharon Bennett Connolly

Pen & Sword Book Cover / Jacket artwork

To survive during the reigns of the Norman and Plantagenet Kings of England, one must understand where their loyalty and trust lied. Did they follow the crown or did they take a risk and follow those who opposed the person who wore the crown? For one family, there was no question who they were loyal to, which was the crown. The Warenne Earls of Surrey served the Kings of England from William the Conqueror to Edward III, gaining titles, prestige, and marriages that would cement their names in history books. They survived some of the most turbulent times in English history even if they did have a few scandals in their illustrious history. In Sharon Bennett Connolly’s latest non-fiction adventure, “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey ”, she explores this family’s history that spanned over three centuries.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have been a fan of Sharon Bennett Connolly’s books for a while now, so when I heard about this title, I knew I wanted to read it. I was going in a bit blind since I have never heard of the Warenne Earls of Surrey, but that is part of the fun of studying a new aspect of history.

The first Earl of Surrey, William de Warenne began this family’s tradition of royal loyalty as he joined William the Conqueror on his journey to England and fought alongside him to establish Norman rule at the Battle of Hastings. William’s descendants would be involved in some of the most important events of the time, from the crusades to the 1st and 2nd Baron’s Wars and the sealing of the Magna Carta. At some points, the earls would briefly switch sides if they thought the king was not in the best interest of the country, but they remained at the heart of English politics and worked hard to help guide the king and the country to become stronger.

What made the Warennes a tour de force when it came to noble families was their ability to marry well, except for the final earl and his scandalous relationships. The second earl desired to marry into the royal family, which did not happen, but his daughter, Ada de Warenne would marry William the Lion, King of Scotland. One of the daughters of Hamlin and Isabel de Warenne would be the mistress of King John and would give birth to his illegitimate son Richard of Chilham. The only woman of the family who inherited the earldom of Surrey, Isabel de Warenne, was married twice and so both of her husbands, William of Blois and Hamelin of Anjou, are considered the 4th earl of Surrey.

Connolly does a wonderful job explaining each story in de Warenne’s long history, including the minor branches of the family. I was able to understand the difference between family members who shared the same first name, (like William, John, and Isabel) but I know that others might have struggled with this aspect. I think it would have been helpful if Connolly had included either a family tree or a list of family members of the de Warennes at the beginning of this book to help readers who did struggle.

I found this particular title fascinating. The de Warennes were a family that proved loyalty to the crown and good marriages went a long way to cement one’s legacy in medieval England. Connolly proved that she has a passion for bringing obscure noble families to the spotlight through her impeccable research. If you want a nonfiction book of a noble family full of loyalty, love, and action, you should check out “Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey” by Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Review: “Plantagenet Princes: The Sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II” by Douglas Boyd

55182667._SX318_One of the most infamous families in the history of England lasted for over three hundred years and it was filled with numerous princes that fought for their right to rule, much to the chagrin of the Tudor dynasty. The Plantagenet Dynasty was full of scandals and bloodshed, testing the core values of what it meant to be a family and rulers of an emerging country like England. This dynastic clash for power that came to define this dynasty began with Henry II and his sons by his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. When their father refused to give the boys any true power, which was to be excepted with all princes, his sons waged war against Henry II and their brothers. The stories of these bonds and what ultimately tore them asunder are told in Douglas Boyd’s latest collection of biographies aptly titled, “Plantagenet Princes: The Sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II”.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. When I read the description of this one, I was drawn in. I am always looking for more information about this fractured family, so I decided to give this book a try.

Boyd begins by describing the lifestyles of a knight and how they went into battle, which was essential for a medieval prince. He also dived into the complicated relationship between Eleanor of Aquitaine, her first husband Louis VII of France, and her second husband Henry II. Since Eleanor did not have any make children with Louis VII, she decided to divorce him to marry the soon-to-be King Henry II of England. It is Eleanor’s children with Henry II that are remembered for their feuds. Their sons; Henry the Young King, Richard I, Geoffrey Duke of Brittany, and King John fought against one another and their father to some extent for the throne of England. I found the chapters about the sons engaging albeit short.

The big problem that I had with this particular title is that it only spent a portion of the book on the actual princes of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II. I was craving more depth, more information out of these chapters, but Boyd decided to go all the way through until the crowning of Henry IV. Once he started to go onto the descendants, I will be honest that I started to find the writing a bit dry.

It is fine as an overview, but I was hoping for a bit more. Boyd also used a lot of research that has been used numerous times. He did not present any new information and reused some myths about these figures. I wanted to hear Boyd’s voice and his opinions about these figures, but it felt lost in this book.

Overall, this book is just okay. I was looking for a bit more depth with the research that focused on the sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, not their descendants. Boyd knows a lot about the Plantagenet dynasty, but it just fell flat for me. If you want a book that gives an overview of the Plantagenets until the coronation of Henry IV, check out “Plantagenet Princes: The Sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II” by Douglas Boyd.

Book Review: “Forest of Secrets” by Fiona Buckley

55873447The year is 1586 and Ursula Blanchard is on a mission to protect Queen Elizabeth I. After returning home from a previous mission, Ursula and her household come into contact with a countrywoman named Etheldreda Hope who has brought a peculiar case to the forefront. In the forest by the village that Etheldreda calls home, there have been strange rituals occurring that include reference to an evil queen. Are these rituals harmless or is there a sinister motive behind the beliefs of the pagans who meet in the forest? Will Ursula and her household solve the case in time? This is the premise of Fiona Buckley’s latest Ursula Blanchard Tudor mystery, “Forest of Secrets”.

I would like to thank Severn House Publishers and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. This was my first time reading a novel by Fiona Buckley and I was intrigued by the plot. I was looking for a new Tudor mystery series after finishing the Shardlake series, so I decided to give this series a try.

What I did not know when I went into this series was that this was part of the Ursula Blanchard series and it was book nineteen. Not the greatest place to start a new series, but I still decided to give it a try. Ursula is an older noblewoman who works for Sir Francis Walsingham to protect Queen Elizabeth I from threats, like Mary Queen of Scots. By her side is her loyal household who are willing to risk their lives to help Ursula solve the cases that she has been assigned by the royal court.

This particular case was given to her by a woman named Etheldreda who has an interesting problem. She has been declared a witch by her village because her mule gave birth to a foal. Because of this, no one believes her when she says that there have been peculiar rituals occurring in the New Forest. She turns to Ursula and her team to help solve this mystery.

Personally, I did have some issues with this novel. It was difficult for me to get attached to the cast of this novel. I know that this was because I started this series very late so I don’t know the relationships between Ursula and her household.

Another issue that I had was that I didn’t feel like this book was set in the Tudor times. It seems weird to say for a novel that is set in 1586, but with the jargon and the descriptions that Buckley included, you could have easily exchanged characters from different time periods and it would have made sense. When I want to read a Tudor novel, I want to feel like I am transported into the past. With this novel, I just felt like I was reading a novel not set in a particular time period.

Overall, I thought this novel was okay. Buckley has obviously written a world that is beloved, but it was difficult to navigate in that world. I think I will need to read the rest of the Ursula Blanchard series before I reread this book. If you are a fan of the Ursula Blanchard series, you will enjoy “Forest of Secrets” by Fiona Buckley.

Book Review: “Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife” by Alison Weir

34020934._SY475_A woman twice widowed with no children of her own has the opportunity to choose who she will marry next. Will she marry the man of her dreams or marry the man who has been married numerous times and has killed two of his wives already? It seems like a no-brainer who she should choose, but the man she married for her third marriage was the man who was married numerous times before simply because he is the notorious King Henry VIII and you do not disobey the king. However, his last wife, Katharine Parr, is willing to fight for the religious reforms and her stepchildren that she loves dearly. In the last book of the Six Tudor Queens series, “Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife”, Alison Weir takes her readers on an extraordinary journey to explore who this brave woman was and why she is the one who survived Henry’s last days.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Random House/ Ballantine Books for sending me a copy of this novel. I have enjoyed the Six Tudor Queens series so far and I was looking forward to reading the last book. Like many people, I know what happened with Katharine during her marriage to Henry VIII and her fourth marriage to Thomas Seymour, but I am not well informed when it comes to her first two marriages. Katharine Parr has been my favorite wife of King Henry VIII for a while now and I wanted to read a novel about her life, to see what Weir’s interpretation of her life story would be like.

Katharine Parr’s story begins with her childhood and her connection with her family. It was unique to see how her childhood helped shaped what type of queen she would become as her mother pushed hard for her daughters to be well educated. Katharine’s first husband, Sir Edward Burgh, was just a boy who followed whatever his father, Sir Thomas Burgh, asked him to do. I think Weir has a unique spin on Katharine’s life with Edward Burgh and their marriage, but it did not last long as Edward Burgh would die in 1533.

Katharine’s second husband, John Neville 3rd Baron Latimer, was her longest marriage. Although they had no children of their own, like Katharine’s marriage to Edward Burgh, it was a happy relationship. They may have differed when it came to their views on religion, but they did seem to love each other. Their happy household was thrown asunder when the Pilgrimage of Grace and Robert Aske knocked on their door and asked for help. There was a real sense of danger during this episode and the bravery that Katharine showed was nothing short of astounding.

When John died, Katharine was left with a choice of who her third husband would be; either the ailing Henry VIII or the suave and debonair Thomas Seymour who deeply loved Katharine. Katharine’s choice was Henry VIII who she hoped she could sway to accept the religious reforms that she believed in strongly. She developed a friendship with the king and his children, but she was still in love with Thomas Seymour. She wrote books during this time that gave her comfort during the difficult times when the court tried to attack her for what she believed and wanted to pit her against Henry. In the end, love triumphed over sorrow and Katharine survived to live with her beloved until the end of her days.

I found this book an absolute treat to read. As someone who loves Katharine Parr and her story, this novel just made me love her even more. The one problem that I had was actually with the spelling of her name as Weir spelled it a bit differently than what I am used to, but it was really a minor detail. I am a bit sad that this is the last book in this wonderful series, but this book was worth the wait.

This novel was a delight to read. It was full of action and intrigue, intense love, and immense sorrow. Katharine was one remarkable woman, just like every wife of Henry VIII Weir has written about in this marvelous series. “Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife” by Alison Weir is a masterpiece in historical fiction and the perfect conclusion to the Six Tudor Queens series that will leave readers satisfied.

Book Review: “Revelations” by Mary Sharratt

53968576._SY475_Margery Kempe, the only daughter of the mayor of Bishop’s Lynn, England has made a tough decision in 1413. She has decided to leave her home, her husband, and her fourteen children to go on a pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem as a way to honor her late father’s dying wishes. As she begins her journey, she meets the famous anchoress Julian of Norwich, who entrusts Margery with an important mission. She gives Margery her book Revelations of Divine Love and tells her to spread her message throughout the world in secret. Margery’s pilgrimage, her connection to Julian of Norwich, and the aftermath of her journey are intricately woven together in Mary Sharratt’s stunning novel, “Revelations”.

I would like to thank Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When I read the description of this novel, I was intrigued. I have heard the names Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich floating around in recent years, but I sadly knew nothing about their life stories. I hoped that this novel would shed some light on both women and why they are remembered in such high regard today.

Sharratt’s novel is based on the research of historians, such as Dr. Janina Ramirez, who have argued that Margery Kempe knew Julian of Norwich and that Julian gave Margery her precious book Revelations of Divine Love. Margery is no ordinary woman as she has visions that will guide her to the path in which she believes God has chosen for her.

We begin with Margery as a young maiden, who has no desire to marry the man that her family has told her to marry. Reluctantly, she does marry John Kempe and they have fourteen children together. It is during the birth of her fourteenth child, Margery almost dies and so she decided to make a vow of celibacy, which her husband reluctantly agrees to. It was not until her father’s death that Margery chooses to fulfill his dream for her, to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Since John chose not to go on pilgrimage with his wife, she decides to don the clothes of a bride of Christ, which means to dress all in white as a virgin.

Many believe that Margery’s visions, her sudden bursts of tears, and her choice to leave her family make her an evil woman. Except for Julian of Norwich, the famed anchoress, and someone who understood Margery’s struggles. Since Julian could not walk away from her duty as an anchoress to explore the world, she gave Margery the treacherous task of carrying her book throughout the world, giving it only those scholars who could be trusted with the knowledge of this scandalous text.

Margery’s journey to discover who she was meant to be is deep and riveting. It showed how even in the early 1400s, there was a struggle between different views of Christianity. From women accused of preaching in the streets to those accused of Lollardy, there was a real sense of danger and death for those who did not follow the status quo. Sharratt shows the dangers that a woman faced when she traveled on pilgrimage alone, but she also showed how deep Margery’s faith was and how willing she was to make sure that her message was heard. If I did have a small concern, it would be that I wish Sharratt delved into the writing of Margery Kempe’s autobiography, The Book of Margery Kempe.

As someone who has never read anything about Julian of Norwich or Margery Kempe, I found this novel enchanting. This was the first novel that I have read by Mary Sharratt and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a delightful escape into the past and the life of a friendship and a pilgrimage that would change the life of Margery Kempe forever. If this sounds intriguing to you, check out “Revelations” by Mary Sharratt.

Book Review: “The Killer of the Princes in the Tower: A New Suspect Revealed” by MJ Trow

56549199 (1)In 1483, King Edward IV’s family received a devastating announcement; the king in the prime of his life died, leaving the throne to his young son Edward V. However, neither Edward V nor his younger brother Richard of York would ever see the throne. Instead, they were taken to the Tower of London by their protector, Richard of Gloucester, for protection, never to be seen again. For over five hundred years, many theories have emerged about what happened to the princes in the tower and who might have possibly killed the boys. In MJ Trow’s latest book, “The Killer of the Princes in the Tower: A New Suspect Revealed”, he works hard to uncover the truth of what might have happened to the sons of King Edward IV.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. When I first heard about this particular title, I was curious yet skeptical. There are so many books and theories about the princes in the tower. I questioned how this one would differ from those who are experts in this field. So, of course, I decided that I wanted to read this book to find out.

Trow’s approach to this case is to treat it like an investigation that modern police would do. First, we must examine the bodies or the lack of bodies in this case. Trow does mention the bodies that were found in the Tower in the 1600s and the examination of the bones in the 1900s. As it is hard to accurately determine if these are indeed the princes without further DNA analysis of the bones, Trow goes into what we know about the case, the actual facts from sources that he claims are dubious. He tends to use the works of Shakespeare and Thomas More quite a lot although he is hypercritical of both sources.

It is here where Trow actually presents his main discussion of the book; who was the killer of the princes in the tower. He starts with the usual suspects (Richard III, Henry VII, Margaret Beaufort, and the Duke of Buckingham), which he quickly dismisses. Then, Trow dives into the more obscure suspects. I actually found some of the people who he suggested ridiculous suspects because of who they were and their connections to the princes. I had never heard some of the theories he suggested in this section and I considered them a bit of a stretch. The person that Trow actually believes could have been the murderer is an intriguing character and he does make a compelling case for him committing the heinous act.

For me, it was Trow’s research and how he presented his case that was extremely poor when I was reading this book. I wanted Trow to move away from the more ridiculous suspects to focus on his main suspect and develop his theory. When he discusses his theory, he uses modern examples of similar cases to prove his point. I think he would have made a stronger case if he showed examples closer to the date of when the princes were killed.
In general, I found this book rather different than other books that are about the princes in the tower. There were some compelling theories and the suspect that Trow believes did the deed was not someone that I remotely considered. I think this book will definitely have people talking about this new suspect. If you want to know MJ Trow’s opinion about who he thinks killed the princes, consider reading “The Killer of the Princes in the Tower: A New Suspect Revealed.”

Book Review: “Murder in the Cloister” by Tania Bayard

55421664The year is 1399 in Paris and the royal family is concerned about the Priory in Poissy. Something has happened behind the cloistered walls and only one person who is extremely loyal to the king and queen can figure out what is amiss, Christine de Pizan the famous medieval writer. Christine goes to Poissy to act as a copyist for the prioress, but she soon finds herself in the middle of a sinister murder case. A nun has been found dead and it is up to Christine and her allies, plus one frenemy, to figure out who killed the nun while protecting the king’s youngest daughter who calls the priory home. Can Christine figure out who murdered the young nun and make it out of the priory alive? This is the premise of Tania Bayard’s latest installment of her Christine de Pizan murder mystery series, “Murder in the Cloister”.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Severn House Publishers for sending me a copy of this novel. When I was browsing, the cover is what drew my attention. I had not heard of this series or of Tania Bayard before reading this novel. I did not know that this book was part of a series until I started reading it. I have heard about Christine de Pizan and her writing legacy, but I sadly knew nothing about her family life and her connection to King Charles V, King Charles VI, and Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, which would have been useful information to know before reading.

We begin this novel with Christine surrounded by her family and her mother. We find out that Christine is a single mother now as her husband has recently passed away and she is trying to earn money through her writing. As the daughter of Thomas de Pizan, the famous astrologer to King Charles V, she has earned the trust of the royal family. King Charles VI, who is suffering from some sort of mental malady, and his wife Queen Isabeau of Bavaria have asked Christine to go to the Priory in Poissy to copy a manuscript for the prioress and to visit her daughter Marie. She is allowed to bring her son Thomas, but the queen insists on Henri le Picart, a man who Christine despises, to come along and protect her. I found Henri’s character annoying with how he belittles women and their abilities, but he did have some redeeming qualities as the story went along.

I found the actual murder investigation a bit slow for my taste. Bayard tends to focus on the subplot of sorcery a bit too long. I wanted an action-packed adventure full of danger and intrigue, like a novel by CJ Sansom or Toni Mount, but the action fell flat for me. I think Bayard was able to describe the priory and the inner workings very well and the characters were all well written and dynamic. As someone who jumped into this series rather late, it took me a while to figure out the relationship between the characters and what happened in previous cases, which is imperative in solving this particular case.

Overall, I found this medieval murder mystery rather enjoyable. I have not read many medieval novels set in France and I have not read anything about Christine de Pizan, so it was different yet intriguing at the same time. If you want to read this series, I would suggest starting at the very beginning. If you are however familiar with the life of Christine de Pizan and this series, I think you will find, “Murder in the Cloister” by Tania Bayard rather enjoyable and a great medieval escape from reality.

Book Review: “Sex, Love, and Marriage in the Elizabethan Age” by R.E. Pritchard

Action, adventure, drama, heartache, and love are what people crave when they read fictional stories. Yet, these elements are ever-present in the stories from the past. Each one of these topics could be explored in numerous ways when we are discussing history, but an area in history where romance and love were intermingled with politics was Elizabethan England. Queen Elizabeth I was obviously known as the “Virgin Queen” because she chose not to marry, but that did not mean that her subjects were banned from love and marriage. How did Elizabethans view the ideas of love, marriage, and sex? In this book, “Sex, Love, and Marriage in the Elizabethan Age”, R.E. Pritchard sets out to explore what love, marriage, and the intimate moments meant to Elizabethans of every class.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. The Elizabethan era has been one of my favorites time periods to study so I am always interested in learning some new aspects about that period in history.

Pritchard begins his book by discussing what love and marriage meant for the commoners in Elizabethan England. These relationships were essential for how the average person identified themselves in society. He explores the scandalous relationships, rapes, adulterous affairs, and love of every kind through popular literature and journals that lesser-known figures kept during this time. I found this section particularly fascinating since I have never seen a book about Elizabethan England explore the literature of the time with such a narrow lens. I think it would have been cool if Pritchard would have done mini historiographical studies into why certain poets and authors wrote what they did to give more depth to the words that they wrote.

The second half of this book explores the romantic lives of Queen Elizabeth I and her Court. This is where I felt a disconnect with what Pritchard wanted to achieve with this particular book. It felt like a review of Elizabeth’s life and her numerous suitors vying for her hand in marriage. There are so many books out today about Elizabeth’s love life that explored this topic in so much depth and by comparison, it made this section of Pritchard’s book feel weaker than the first half.

I wish Pritchard would have focused on perfecting the first half of the book and exploring the amorous relationships of the average Elizabethan. There are sparks of brilliance, but they are marred by the second half of this book. If Pritchard wanted to include the section about the queen’s love life, I wish he had it at the beginning as a chapter or two to make it very brief and to set the mood, then jump into the lives of average Elizabethans as a comparison.

Overall, I felt like this book had the potential to be something special, but Pritchard tried to do too much in one book. He is passionate about the subject that he is writing about, which is obvious to those who read this book, but he was over-ambitious. I think his original research and ideas were fascinating and I want more of that new angle to romance in Elizabethan England that he was presenting. If you want a unique look at love and marriage in the late Tudor dynasty, you should give, “Sex, Love, and Marriage in the Elizabethan Age” by R.E. Pritchard a try.

Book Review: “Bohemond of Taranto: Crusader and Conqueror” by Georgios Theotokis

The Crusades have been recently examined as a whole or by individual Crusades to show the significance of these wars and why the Crusaders fought. It is only the main Crusaders, the leaders, whose names and legacies are remembered to this day. One such man was a Norman who was considered the unofficial leader of the First Crusade, Bohemond of Taranto. Bohemond was a true warrior who fought numerous enemies, including the Byzantine emperor Alexios Komnenos, and would become the Lord of Antioch. His deeds would earn him praise from his allies and ire from his enemies. The impact that Bohemond of Taranto left on the First Crusade cannot be underestimated, especially when it came to the military strategies that he employed to secure his numerous victories. In Georgios Theotokis’ latest biography, “Bohemond of Taranto: Crusader and Conqueror”, he explores the life of this legendary man with a particular focus on his military prowess to better understand his legacy.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I was not familiar with Bohemond of Taranto and his story so I was keen to learn more about him and the First Crusade.

Bohemond of Taranto was the son of Robert Guiscard and his first wife Alberada of Buonalbergo, but when their marriage was annulled due to consanguinity, Bohemond was declared a bastard. Although he was viewed as illegitimate in the eyes of the church, Robert still treated Bohemond as an equal, especially when it came to military ventures. Under Robert’s tutelage, Bohemond cultivated the strategic skills that would be essential in his conquests of land in Italy, Sicily, the Balkans, and Anatolia. Along the way, Bohemond would become frenemies with the power Byzantine emperor Alexios Komnenos. The interactions between the two men were recorded in the Alexiad, which was written by Alexios’ daughter Anna Komnene; she was not the biggest fan of Bohemond, but Theotokis relies on her work heavily throughout this biography.

It was not just international foes that Bohemond had to deal with as there was a succession battle between him and his brother Roger Borsa for control over their father’s land. On top of all of this, Bohemond of Taranto and his uncle Roger I of Sicily were asked to lead the First Crusade that was declared by Pope Urban II to reclaim the Holy Land. Along the way, Bohemond made the difficult decision to pay homage to Alexios Komnenos, which would prove beneficial up to a point. It was during this time that Bohemond and his Norman army helped capture Antioch for the crusaders and Bohemond was declared Lord of Antioch. While Bohemond was away conquering other cities, his nephew Tancred of Hauteville was his regent in Antioch.

I think Theotokis does an excellent job of showing the military strategies that made Bohemond such a dynamic leader. I found this account extremely fascinating and eye-opening on what one leader could do in a few decades. The one problem that I had with this biography was the fact that there were so many names of leaders and places that I had never heard of that I was getting a bit confused. I wish Theotokis had included a list of important names and places with a quick blurb about their significance in the front of the book to help the First Crusade novices such as myself. Overall, I think this is was a very well written and researched biography. If you want a solid biography about one of the leaders of the First Crusade, check out, “Bohemond of Taranto: Crusader and Conqueror” by Georgios Theotokis.