Set in the Middle Ages during the reign of Richard I of England, American author Michael Cadnum’s young adult fiction, The Book of the Lion
(2000), tells the story of a young English squire facing the horrors and moral contradictions of the Crusades. The first of Cadnum's Crusader Trilogy
, the book received a nomination for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
Edmund is a young man living during the twelfth century and working for a master Otto and his wife. In the middle of the night, Edmund and Otto are kidnapped by representatives of King Richard I's Exchequer or tax collector. After watching the tax collectors drive an anvil through Otto's hand, Edmund escapes but doesn't get far before he is captured and chained up in his master's house. He learns that Otto, who is nowhere to be seen, is guilty of making counterfeit coins. As Edmund is Otto's servant, he is technically guilty of any crimes committed by his master. Nevertheless, Geoffrey, the Sheriff of Nottingham, gives Edmund a second chance to redeem himself by serving in the Crusades under Sir Nigel.
Sir Nigel states that to secure a position as his squire, Edmund must defeat Hubert, another boy who is also interested in the job, in a duel. The morning of the duel, Edmund escapes the town to the countryside with some of Nigel's silver and fine clothes. Unfortunately, he is intercepted the following day by none other than Hubert, the other squire he was set to duel. Waylaid with a swollen ankle, Edmund sees no other recourse but to return with Hubert to face his fate. Before they depart for town, they encounter a pagan knight Rannulf who once killed five opponents in a single tournament.
After Edmund begs Nigel to let him live, the knight agrees to take on both Hubert and Edmund as squires. The night before they are set to leave for the Holy Land, Rannulf demands that Edmund fix his dented helm. Edmund works at it all night, and thanks to divine intervention summoned by Rannulf, the helm is fixed. They ride throughout the next day, with Edmund on a fine horse called Winter Star. The group of Crusaders finally makes its way to London, which is a real disappointment for Edmund who had been hoping for something more. Sailing down the Thames to the English Channel, Edmund and Winter Star both suffer seasickness, while Hubert is completely unaffected by the choppy waters.
From Normandy, France, the Crusaders march to a much larger ship called Saint Agnes
, which they then sail to Venice, Italy. There, they learn that the fighting in the Holy Land has already commenced, causing Sir Nigel and others to worry that they might miss the whole Crusades. After a night of drunken debauchery that leaves Edmund and Hubert chained up overnight in the hull of their ship, they set off from Venice with a new passenger on board, Father Urbino. After a violent storm sends Rannulf's squire Miles overboard to his death, Edmund becomes Rannulf's new squire.
The storm pushes their ship even closer to their destination: The city of Acre in Northern Israel. The English Crusaders meet up with a group of Frankish Crusaders led by Sir Guy de Renne. They attack a walled city controlled by Muslim "infidels," although Hubert and Edmund are too far back in the column to be involved in the fighting. The battle rolls on for days in something of a stalemate, as the Crusaders await the arrival of their king, Richard the Lionheart. While waiting by the shore for King Richard's ship, Edmund shares a cordial greeting with an Arab Muslim known as a Saracen. Hubert ridicules Edmund for not killing the Saracen, but Edmund insists there is nothing noble about killing someone who poses no threat.
King Richard finally arrives, but it takes a few days before he is well enough to lead the Crusaders into battle. Once he does, Edmund notches his first kill, striking down a Saracen to save his friend, Hubert. Though the Crusaders win the battle, Edmund and Hubert suffer from nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder because of what they have seen. They are further traumatized when King Richard orders the Crusaders to murder all the men wounded or imprisoned after the battle, rather than have to feed and clothe them. Nigel insists that they have a duty to fight and to follow their king, who rules by divine right. While the French Crusaders abandon the cause, the English Crusaders continue to pursue an army of Muslims led by Saladin to the South.
Near the town of Arsuf, the fighting continues, more brutal even than before. As the Crusaders advance, Winter Star is wounded and falls to the ground. Edmund realizes his beloved horse and companion is dead. After Edmund spends some time grieving amid the chaos, a knight named Wenstan finds a horse for Edmund, and they ride off to find Nigel and Hubert, who are missing. When they find them, both are badly hurt.
In the end, however, they both survive, although Nigel is too hurt to continue fighting. Rannulf also must be sent home, which means both Hubert and Edmund will soon be back in England. Before getting on the ship home, Edmund looks in the distance and can see the glittering white city of Jerusalem.