The Iron Lance

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

According to legend, crusaders were noble knights involved in a holy war to liberate Jerusalem from non-Christians. In reality, they were ruthless warriors more interested in filling their coffers than furthering God’s glory. Stephen Lawhead recaptures the tumultuous time of the crusades in The Iron Lance.

The story opens in 1899, when Gordon Murray, a member of a secret mystical society, is initiated into a higher degree. He is lowered into a dark cavern and finds the iron lance, a relic of Christ’s crucifixion. As he grasps it, he has a vision of his eleventh century ancestor Murdo, the teenage son of Lord Ranulf. Murdo is left behind to manage his family’s estate after his father and brothers leave to fight in the first crusade. Murdo soon finds himself homeless after his land is confiscated by another nobleman who is in collusion with the church. Murdo vows to journey to the Holy Land, find his father and brothers, and take revenge on the man who stole his family’s property. His quest leads him to fabulous Constantinople and then to war-torn Jerusalem. With the help of a mystical order of monks, Murdo finds the man he seeks and obtains the lance.

Lawhead’s talent as a wordsmith shines through in his chilling descriptions of the siege of Jerusalem in 1099 and its gory aftermath. The scenes convey the brutality and barbarism of war. While Lawhead’s portrayal of historical events is effective, his characterization of Murdo lacks both luster and depth. Murdo changes little throughout the narrative in spite of the atrocities he witnesses. His only growth occurs toward the end of the novel when he undergoes a sudden conversion from skepticism to faith—a surprising change considering his denouncement of religion and the church throughout the story. Despite the weak characterization of Murdo, the fantasy elements of Lawhead’s novel are sure to please his fans. The vivid depictions of events surrounding the crusades will garner him new devotees among those who enjoy historical fiction.