Local author takes reader to the past

A NEW BOOK by Comox Valley writer Mark Blackham is set in the tumultuous 11th century.

Cluny Cross — A Mad Medieval Tale, recounts the story of Ramiro of Léon, a Benedictine monk who lives a peaceful and pious life at the Abbey of Cluny in France.

This simple life is shattered when, in 1089, he finds himself unwittingly swept up in the political intrigues of Pope Urban II.

Hailed as a mission to save Christendom from a Muslim conquest, Ramiro is sent on a clandestine assignment to Jerusalem where, for reasons unclear, he is ordered to deliver a curious wooden cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

He sets out happily, confident in divine providence, but soon finds his mission thwarted time and again by emperors and sultans, assassins and mystics, slave-traders and savages — and by a carpenter’s daughter who haunts his dreams.

Adele, a feisty Norman girl, catches his eye early on, leaving him struggling in spirit with his vows of obedience and chastity. He tries desperately to put her out of his mind, having no idea how much she will change his life in the years to come.

Ramiro begins his journey seven years before the First Crusade, a time of intense political and social upheaval across the Middle East. He soon arrives in the heart of the Byzantine Empire where unpredictable events carry him to the Turkish frontier and far beyond, deep into the Turk Empire, where he dodges his way through critical events of the time.

After many travails and dungeons, Ramiro finally escapes and sets out again for Jerusalem. But on this last leg, he finds himself hunted down by a Mamluk warrior who follows in relentless pursuit.

He rushes into Jerusalem just before the the city’s bloody fall to French invaders in 1099 and, after the conquest, discovers that his cross has an entirely unexpected meaning to the knights of Europe — one that could cost him his life.

Cluny Cross presents an alternative view of the First Crusade, one that transports its readers to the “other” side to see events from the perspectives of Byzantines, Arabs and Turks.

It is a tale of action, adventure and romance, written with careful attention to historical detail. Vivid portrayals of the sophisticated cultures and vibrant peoples of Byzantium, Syria and Persia will sweep you back in time.

Mark Blackham has a keen interest in the affairs of the Middle East and spent a year conducting research in Syria, Jordan and Israel. He is a man of many hats, but more recently he earned a graduate degree in archaeology and anthropology from the University of Toronto.

History has always been a passion for him and he is thoroughly captivated by authors who break away from established patterns to portray historical events in a new or alternative light. He continues to delve deeply into the past, fascinated by the parallels that exist between contemporary events and the stories of ancient history.

Cluny Cross – A Mad Medieval Tale is available at Amazon and participating bookstores (ISBN 978-09877878-04). Digital versions available at BooksOnBoard.com and Amazon (ISBN 978-09877878-11).

Visit http://markblackham.com.

— Mark Blackham


Comox Valley Record

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