A Wind from the Wilderness is an intriguing mix of historical fiction and fantasy set during the early days of the First Crusade. The novel primarily follows three characters; Lukas Bessarion, Ayla and Raymond of Saint-Gilles, all of whom find themselves part of the march from Constantinople.
Lukas is introduced first; a young man eager to stand up and fight for his people and what he believes to be right. It’s a trait that continues even after his family is scattered and he finds himself thrown forward almost half a millennium in time. Unfortunately, as the son of a nobleman, he also has a degree of arrogance to him which gets him into trouble more than once, starting as soon as he arrives in the book’s present.
Ayla is found scavenging on the streets, her family also having been lost to violence. Her spontaneous decision to save Lukas sees the two of them begin a journey that has many ramifications for both of them. One thing I particularly liked about Ayla’s character is that she is essentially living with a death sentence and rather than complain or try to find a way around it, she decides to devote the time she has left to a cause she deems worthwhile. That brings her into conflict with Lukas and the see-saw relationship between them, with neither wanting to cause the other harm but each supporting opposing goals is one of the best parts of the book. Having said that, I think I would have preferred if their relationship had remained that way and not become romantic. While it made a degree of sense and was well-written, I do feel like it was a bit abrupt.
For me, Saint-Gilles was the most interesting of the main characters. As a count, he is one of the men in charge of the army and is often required to cope with the double-dealing and political machinations of virtually everyone around him. While not necessarily a nice person, there are multiple references to him having to atone for past sins, he does care about the people under his protection and scenes involving his new wife and son add a further dimension to him.
It’s obvious a great deal of research went into this novel and this translates into a great sense of the time and place. Although I described it above as a combination of fantasy and historical fiction, the division is about 85% in favour of historical. For those who appreciate that level of detail, this is a treat. I also feel that there is a lot still to be explored, either with the same characters going forward or by backtracking to fill in some of the history skipped between the prologue and the main narrative. I see there are another two books in the series already out, with another on the way, and I am definitely invested enough to look those up.
8 out of 10 knightly virtues.