top of page

The Need for Redempton During the First Crusade - an Editorial Review of "Crusader's Path"

Author Bio:

Mary Ann Bernal attended Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, NY, where she received a degree in Business Administration. Her literary aspirations were ultimately realized when the first book of The Briton and the Dane novels was published in 2009. In addition to writing historical fiction, Mary Ann has also authored a collection of contemporary short stories in the Scribbler Tales series and a science fiction/fantasy novel entitled Planetary Wars Rise of an Empire. Her recent work includes Crusader’s Path, a redemption story set against the backdrop of the First Crusade, and Forgiving Nero, a novel of Ancient Rome.

Since Operation Desert Storm, Mary Ann has been a passionate supporter of the United States military, having been involved with letter-writing campaigns and other support programs. She appeared on The Morning Blend television show hosted by KMTV, the CBS television affiliate in Omaha, and was interviewed by the Omaha World-Herald for her volunteer work. She has been a featured author on various reader blogs and promotional sites.

Mary Ann currently resides in Elkhorn, Nebraska.

Book Blurb:

Honorable Mention 2020 Book of the Year Historical Romance Coffee Pot Book Club

From the sweeping hills of Argences to the port city of Cologne overlooking the River Rhine, Etienne and Avielle find themselves drawn by the need for redemption against the backdrop of the First Crusade. Heeding the call of His Holiness, Urban II, to free the Holy Land from the infidel, Etienne follows Duke Robert of Normandy across the treacherous miles, braving sweltering heat and snow-covered mountain passes while en route to the Byzantine Empire. Moved by Peter of Amiens’ charismatic rhetoric in the streets of the Holy Roman Empire, Avielle joins the humble army of pilgrims. Upon arrival in Mentz, the peasant Crusaders do the unthinkable, destroying the Jewish Community. Consumed with guilt, Avielle is determined to die fighting for Christ, assuring her place in Heaven. Etienne and Avielle cross paths in Constantinople, where they commiserate over past misdeeds. A spark becomes a flame, but when Avielle contracts leprosy, Etienne makes a promise to God, offering to take the priest cowl in exchange for ridding Avielle of her affliction. Will Etienne be true to his word if Avielle is cleansed of the contagion, or will he risk eternal damnation to be with the woman he loves?

Book Buy Link:

Editorial Review:

In her book ''Crusader's Path'' Mary Ann Bernal has chosen a truly monumental canvas upon which to bring to life her principal characters in this truly tragic drama. To those not fully conversant with the tale, in the last dying years of the Eleventh Century a beleaguered Pope whose own Papacy and political position hung in the very balance tapped into a very deep and intense popular vein by preaching a Crusade, a Holy War. This was against the infidel Turks who then occupied the Holy Land and who, it was piously and strongly believed, defiled the places where once Christ had trod. These were very strong emotions indeed! In the brief period between November 1095 and July 1099 thousands of European Christians, the great and the small together, were sufficiently aroused and inspired to gather together in large groups and walk [or take the only slightly less perilous sea route] the vast distances involved in truly appalling conditions and against many large Moslem armies gathered against them to take back the City of Jerusalem and the Holy Places in the name of Christ and to the immense benefit of Alexios, the worldly wise and cynical Byzantine Emperor based in Constantinople [modern day Istanbul]. For many there was, of course, the allure of riches and unimaginable wealth and personal freedom from old bonds. There was also the opportunity of paying off real and imagined crimes and of revenge. Thus, throughout the progress of the Crusade in its journey through Germany and the Rhineland and into the territory of the Byzantine Empire there occurred horrific massacres of the local Jewish populations in the name of Christ and to pay off debts. This behaviour was repeated in the Middle East with the massacre of local Jewish, Christian and Moslem populations. Above all, and this fact cannot be stressed strongly enough, was the uniformly held belief that to fight and die in such a righteous cause would result in the forgiveness of all sins and eternal salvation. It was this, above all else, that fired and inspired the first Crusaders and their subsequent followers.

This, then, is the backdrop for Mary Ann Bernal's two highly disparate protagonists. Etienne d'Argences is the son of a highly connected Norman nobleman in a Normandy divided by civil war and anarchy as the three sons of William the Conqueror fight for supremacy. Etienne's elected choice is to follow Robert, the very flawed eldest son and titular Duke of Normandy. Robert sees this Crusade as a chance to both improve his seriously constrained circumstances and to advance himself. Etienne is prepared to leave his prosperous lands and vineyards and the memory of an unhappy marriage for much the same set of reasons. Etienne is very much a product of his class and times, by turn braggartly and arrogant and cavalier in his treatment of women and also touchingly childlike. He is always honest in his feelings and emotions and acts accordingly throughout the narrative.

We are given an early portrait of Etienne as viewed by his initially suspicious colleagues at Robert's Ducal Court: ''The Inner circle found the relationship between Duke Robert and Etienne unconventional. The upstart came from nowhere, a wine maker, albeit high born, lacking duplicity........ once they realised Etienne had no intention of displacing any of them, they accepted him into the ranks. Etienne proved to be a brave warrior trusted on the battlefield, a drinking partner who kept confidences, a man accepting his standing, and seemingly lacking ambition.''

So, Etienne is set upon the great adventure, a favoured and much trusted lieutenant, in effect the second in command, of Robert's assembled army for the relief of the Holy Land; to fame and fortune and eternal salvation in the life to come.

The young girl Avielle, will prove to be the true love of Etienne's life. She too is very much a product of her times and her place. We first encounter her as a young girl in Cologne, bemusedly in love with a prosperous Jewish Merchant in an affair that could not hope to thrive. Her father dead, she works busily and tirelessly in a monastery Infirmary, caring for a community of lepers. Avielle, a good hearted and loving person, falls under the spell of the enigmatic Monk, 'Peter the hermit', who leads a truly chaotic and ill organised 'Peoples' Crusade of ordinary people in advance of the main military force which burns and loots its way across Europe to Constantinople. She vows herself to Peter and to the Crusade and the desire to found a Hospital dedicated to the care of lepers. carrying within her own body the spoors of the dreaded sickness of leprosy.

Here is Avielle, pictured on the road to Constantinople and Jerusalem, a faithful disciple of the bizarre figure of Peter the Hermit, following a violent encounter with the locals in the Kingdom of Hungary:

''Shaken by the unnecessary loss of life, Avielle strengthened her resolve to serve the Lord, tending to the ill and the dying, finding a purpose for being spared. She considered taking the veil, but only momentarily, preferring freedom over obedience. But she did give herself to Christ, as the holy sisters did when taking their final vows..... The Lord had given her the gift of healing, and the leper colony [in Cologne] would welcome her return.....''

Both Etienne and Avielle are thus committed, for their own separate reasons, to the Liberation of Jerusalem and the earthly lands of Christ, and it is in the fabulous City of Constantinople that their paths first cross. It is from that point onwards, a point of love at first sight, that their lives and their journey to the prize of Jerusalem, become forever entwined and the reader is led through a chaos of dreadful climate conditions and sickness, of terrible battles and massacres:

The two are indissolubly linked in their love and shared experiences. Before the final assault upon the walls of Jerusalem, the writer poignantly describes their farewell before the final battle:

''Etienne and Avielle held each other until the call to arms sounded. They kissed passionately, their eyes depicting love's eternal bond never to be broken. Releasing themselves

from a loving embrace, their hands slipping away, their fingertips touching tenderly. Etienne stepped back, gazing at Avielle when he left......''

''Crusader's Path'' tells a truly epic and tragic tale. Historical purists may well mourn the relative lack of historical detail and of any major personification of the actual major historical figures and their fascinating relationship, one to the other. The opportunity to do so might be considered a missed opportunity; though perhaps this was not the author's intention in telling this fine story. Equally, while the dialogue may at times seem sparse and stilted to some, this is nonetheless a fine and stirring tale of love and times and events that are at times shocking and largely beyond the comprehension of the modern reader. This is the true strength of the book.


“Crusader’s Path” by Mary Ann Bernal receives 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company


bottom of page