The Scribe and The Land of God (The Two Daggers, Book 1 and 2) by Elizabeth R. Andersen @E_R_A_writes @maryanneyarde #Books #Historical

There are way too little books set in the Middle east. Such fascinating and rich culture.

The Scribe (The Two Daggers, Book 1) by Elizabeth R. Andersen released in July in the Historical fiction genre.

All Henri of Maron wanted was to stay with his family on his country estate, surrounded by lemon groves and safety. But in 13th century Palestine, when noble-born boys are raised to fight for the Holy Land, young Henri will be sent to live and train among men who hate him for what he is: a French nobleman of an Arab mother. Robbed of his humanity and steeped in cruelty, his encounters with a slave soldier, a former pickpocket, and a kindly scribe will force Henri to confront his own beliefs and behaviors. Will Henri maintain the status quo in order to fit into a society that doesnt want him, or will fate intervene first?

The first book in The Two Daggers series, The Scribe takes readers on a sweeping adventure through the years and months that lead up to the infamous Siege of Acre in 1291 CE and delves into the psyches of three young people caught up in the wave of history.

Trigger warnings: Torture, violence, sexual assault, sexual content.

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The Land of God (The Two Daggers, Book 2) by Elizabeth R. Andersen released in November.

Pain. His sister’s screams. And a beautiful face in the jeering crowd. When Henri of Maron woke, he had only a few memories of his brutal flogging, but he knew the world had changed. He had changed.

Now, as he grapples with the fallout from his disastrous decisions, war with the Mamluk army looms closer. To convince the city leaders to take the threat seriously, Henri and the grand master of the Templars must rely on unlikely allies and bold risks to avoid a siege.

Meanwhile, Sidika is trying to find a way to put her life back together. When she is forced to flee her home, her chance encounters with a handsome amir and a strangely familiar old woman will have consequences for her future.

The Land of God weaves the real historical figures with rich, complex characters and an edge-of-seat plot. Readers who enjoyed the Brethren series by Robyn Young and The Physician by Noah Gordon will appreciate this immersive tale set in the Middle East in the Middle Ages.

Trigger warnings: Torture, violence, sexual assault, sexual content.

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Author Bio:

Elizabeth R. Andersen’s debut novel, The Scribe, launched in July of 2021. Although she spent many years of her life as a journalist, independent fashion designer, and overworked tech employee, there have always been two consistent loves in her life: writing and history. She finally decided to do something about this and put them both together.

Elizabeth lives in the Seattle area with her long-suffering husband and young son. On the weekends she usually hikes in the stunning Cascade mountains to hide from people and dream up new plotlines and characters. Elizabeth is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Acre, the Enduring City: Taking a virtual research trip during the time of COVID

In late January of 2020, I found myself returning from a business trip in London. On my flight back to Seattle, I saw people wearing face masks for the first time.

Wow, I thought, this coronavirus thing is really getting serious.

All my trips for 2020 were already planned: Singapore in March, Japan in May, and Malta in September. The last one thrilled me because Malta is only a few hours by plane to Acre, Israel, and I had some research to do for my first novel. The story follows four point-of-view characters from the 13th century, but I knew that Acre was also a character in its own right as the book’s setting.

A few weeks later, I, along with the rest of the world, watched in shock as borders and schools closed and airline travel became a thing of the past. My 9-year-old rejoiced in his liberation from the classroom, and I realized that I might have to publish a book about a place that I had never seen in person.

Acre (also known as Akko in Hebrew, Akka in Arabic, or Saint-Jean d’Acre in old French) is the setting for the first two books in The Two Daggers series. (English-speakers: it’s pronounced ak-RUH, not AY-ker, like the unit of measurement). I  did not choose this location – history chose it for me. It was there that in 1291 the Levantine crusades gave their dying gasp, and the city was besieged and pulled to the ground during an attack by the Mamluk army.

Considered one of the oldest perpetually inhabited cities, Acre was well-known in the Medieval world because of its amenable harbor, which provided ready access to the Christian-controlled island of Cyprus nearby. It was also a popular pilgrim stop on the road to the Holy Sepulcher. When the great Saladin recaptured Jerusalem in 1187, Acre eventually became the new seat of the Crusader Kingdom, with the major orders of the warrior monks declaring it their headquarters (notably the Hospitallers, the Templars, and the Knights of St. Thomas).

Before that could happen, however, the city had to be captured.  Acre was the scene of a brutal siege by the Christians in 1191 when King Richard the Lionhearted and King Philip II joined forces to take the city from the Muslims and Jews who lived there. Saladin surrendered Acre to the kings of the West, but when hostage negotiations broke down, King Richard shocked and outraged Saladin’s generals by slaughtering all the prisoners he captured as spoils of war in an unpardonable breach of chivalry. The generals took out their anger on the French and English captives in their prisons.

A hundred years later, when my book The Scribe takes place, the city had recently managed to pull itself out of a years-long trade conflict, where fighting between the Sicilian, Genoese, and Venetian tradesman for territorial dominance devolved into what would eventually be called the War of Saint Sabas. Acre was inherited by the very young and inexperienced King Henry II of Cyprus, who, for reasons that will take too long to explain (but may or may not have had something to do with poison), was noticeably uncomfortable and unwelcome. Because of this, King Henry remained in Cyprus and left the running of the city to the aged Patriarch of Jerusalem [Bishop of Acre], Nicholas de Hanapes, along with a council of influential merchants and the grand masters of the knightly orders.  This all combined to create a powder keg of power-grasping, scheming, and mistrust within the city walls.

So, what was Acre really like in the year 1291, before its demise?  We know that it was a vibrant place and apparently extraordinarily filthy, if the chroniclers are to be believed.  It would have been full of color because of the thriving dye trade on the coast, and was also a center of learning and bookmaking.  Descriptions of silks strung across the streets to shade pedestrians from the sun and colored glass in the windows indicate the city’s extravagance and wealth. 

And, of course, there were the people.  Contemporaries described Acre as being so overcrowded that people could hardly walk through the streets.  There would have been traders, travelers, and scholars from across the known world; pilgrims from the Frankish territories, Mamluks from Cairo, Mongols from all across the Caucasus, and so on.  There would be every flavor of Christian under the sun due to the constant influx of penitents and worshippers from the West. 

By many accounts, those who lived and settled in Acre were generally tolerant of their local neighbors, and interracial or interreligious conflicts within the city were less common than trade disagreements.  The trouble really began when pilgrims filled with religious fervor arrived by ship from their homelands in Francia and the Italian peninsula.  The result of one of these pilgrim conflicts is the central theme of the first two books in The Two Daggers series.

All of this information was all gathered from reading books, (you can see my bibliography here on Goodreads), but how was I to actually know what it meant to walk the streets of this city if I was stuck in my house under lockdown?  Enter the miracle of modern technology.  Using my husband’s Oculus headset, I fired up Google Maps and took a 3D journey through the streets of Acre’s old city.  I saw the Hospitaller citadel, which somehow managed to escape total destruction, and the courtyards of the surviving convents.  I prowled the nearby hills and the rocky coastline, imagining the sound of the water as it slapped against the thick seawall.  I gazed out over the bones of the Tower of Flies in the harbor, and the massive, watery graveyard that was once the Templar castle.  After that I started calling people who lived there or had been there.  I asked about smells and plants and how the people interacted with each other.  All of this combined to give me a picture of how the city felt.

Now that lockdown is easing, I have a trip to Italy planned, with a few research excursions – one to Acre, and the other I cannot reveal or else I’ll spoil book three! But Acre, that colorful, multicultural, tenaciously enduring city, is calling to me, and even if the world shuts down again, I will make it there someday.  For now, I can only walk there in my in a silent, odorless virtual world, which is better than nothing. 

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