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Cross and Crescent
Susan Shwartz
Tor Books, 382 pages

Cross and Crescent
Susan Shwartz
Susan Shwartz is a financial writer/editor and an assistant vice president for a Wall Street investment firm. In her spare time, she writes, edits, and reviews fantasy and science fiction. Having published more than 60 short stories, written several of novels, and edited a number of anthologies, she has also written non-fiction for Vogue, The New York Times and various other national periodicals.

Susan Shwartz Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

Susan Shwartz's Cross and Crescent is a sequel to last year's Shards of Empire. Set twenty-odd years later, Leo Ducas and his Jewish wife Asherah have settled into a quiet lifestyle in Constantinople. Their life is changed by the simultaneous secret visit of Anna Comnena, Leo's cousin and the daughter of Emperor Alexius Comnenus, and the arrival of a letter for Asherah informing her of the slaughter of whole communities of Jews in the Rhineland as the Western knights prepare for the First Crusade.

Even as Leo and his two foster children, Binah and Theodoulos, are summoned into Alexius' service, Asherah turns her back on all Christians save Leo in disgust at their actions against her kin. Although Leo remains on stage throughout the novel, this is less his story than the story of his foster children and the caesarissa Anna, who would go on to write the Alexiad, recounting the First Crusade from the Byzantine point of view. In fact, it is this point of view that is prevalent in Cross and Crescent. The crusaders under Bohemond are not the glorious warriors for Christ as they are so often depicted in Western literature. Instead, they are viewed by Byzantines and Turks alike as dirty opportunist barbarians who do not understand how to behave in the situations in which they find themselves.

While in the earlier work, Leo Ducas had to discover who he was, in this novel, his children must determine their identities, as does the caesarissa. Theodoulos, perhaps most of all, is torn between the Orthodoxy his father belonged to and in which he has lived while studying with Father Meletios, the Judaism which is his mother's religion. But he feels estranged from it since the events in the Rhineland, and the strange Latinate form of Christianity he comes into contact with as he journeys with Bohemond's knights at Alexius' request.

Shwartz's characters remain likable, although the situations in which they find themselves are frequently murky. As perhaps befits a novel set in the Byzantine Empire, everyone's motivations are hidden. Unfortunately, the murkiness of the political situation often boils over into the scenes Shwartz describes and it isn't always clear who is involved in any given scene, nor what has happened.

Cross and Crescent suffers from many of the same problems which appeared in Shards of Empire. One area where Shwartz does excel is in reminding the reader of the events of the earlier book without seeming preachy. Her comments about Theodoulos' or Binah's histories give enough information to remind the reader what has happened if they read Shards of Empire and give enough background to follow the story if they haven't.

Once again, however, Shwartz exhibits a strong knowledge of the period and location she has chosen to describe. Even if her characters' motivations often seem strange, if not out of place, Shwartz's understanding of the political situation and cultures comes through, making her characters seem even more extraordinary than they already are.

Copyright © 1998 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.

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