Alina: A Song for the Telling is a wonderfully told story set in the Christian court of Jerusalem during the Crusades.
During his lifetime, Alina and Milos de Florac's father, Guy, had been far more interested in his family and music than estate management, and the holdings, as well as the retainers that depended on its success, had all suffered due to its neglect. And when his beloved wife, Beatriou, and eldest daughter, Maria, tragically succumbed to the sweating sickness, he sank into immovable despair, and things only got worse. Not long after, he was found drowned, a suspected suicide, and his brother, Garsanc, and his wife, Marci, arrived, determined to set things right and repair the damage to the family name.
The brother and sister felt increasingly stifled, trapped under their new guardianship. Milos was constantly in trouble for one scrape or another. He was young and undisciplined; their father had been lax with the boy's education in estate management much as he had been. Nor were there the funds to send Milos as a page to the household of a knight where he could learn and trained as a squire before returning home to take up his duties when the time came.
Although bright and musically-talented like her father, Alina was not considered a great beauty, and lacking an attractive dowry, her prospects for an advantageous marriage were dim. She dreamed of becoming a trobairitz, a female troubadour, traveling the country, perhaps the world, playing her lute, and singing songs of her own devising. She became alarmed by the parade of unsuitable men her aunt keeps thrusting in her path, and the threat of the convent starts to look more desirable.
As the tension at home mounted, the siblings formed an escape plan: they would join one of the parties of knights, merchants, and pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land on the pretense of praying for their father's endangered soul. Aunt Marci and Uncle Garsanc agree, glad to have the pair out of sight for a while as they continue to mend the damage to the estate all the years of neglect had wrought. Uncle Garsanc knows of a group preparing to depart soon and led by a reputable knight from right there in Provence, Baltazar de Aurignac. With money from Uncle Garsanc in their pockets and Alina's lute carefully wrapped for the journey, the young brother and sister set off for Lyon to join their new companions and head off on the trip of a lifetime.
Author Malve von Hassell has written a wonderfully immersive tale set in 12th century France and Jerusalem. Set during the time of the Crusades, the long journey by horseback is interesting and exciting and so descriptive that I felt I was right there with Alina and Milos. The arrival in Jerusalem was full of sights and smells, dust and heat, color and antiquity. There are mystery and political intrigue galore that kept me turning the pages as I soaked up the atmosphere the author so skillfully and effortlessly crafted. ALINA is historical fiction, so real people and events are included in the story, and fact and fiction fit together flawlessly. It is amazing to me thinking about the massive amount of research this author did in completing this wonderful story. This realization only came to me later after putting the book down because I never felt like I was reading history; the story was so lively and entertaining.
I enjoyed that the book was told from Alina's point of view, and the thoughts and feelings of the young teenager felt true and natural. I also liked that she'd learned how to behave properly from her mother and had enough self-discipline to control her emotions and reactions to how she was treated at the court in Jerusalem. I felt this enabled her in her role as an onlooker of the various political schemes and drama. Well-behaved and a proper lady, she was useful yet overlooked and dismissed at times, allowing her the freedom to move about without being missed.
I recommend ALINA: A SONG FOR THE TELLING for readers of historical fiction, especially those that would enjoy the 12th century setting of the Crusades, France, and the history of the Christian court in Jerusalem. The book is suitable for YA and adult readers, and I could see this as a read-aloud book for middle grades and younger and something the entire family would enjoy.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through France Book Tours.