Disclaimer: ARC courtesy Netgalley and Osprey publishing. Also the book is illustrated but the ARC did not include all the illustrations. What illustrations there were great, but since not all were present I won’t be mentioning the illustrations in the review below.
My favorite Charlemagne stories are, without a doubt, the Italian Romances that feature the woman paladin Bradamante. There is also an adult level of humor in these translations.
This volume in Osprey’s excellent series of Myths and Legends does mention the Italian Romances, yet does not include the R rated bits, making it an excellent introduction to the legends and history of Charlemagne and his knights.
The focus of most of the book is on the French material, be it historical record or myth. Each of the major Paladins gets a brief discussion and is paired with his companion (think BBF). In the profile his family history, historical connections, and details, like the names of his sword and mount, are listed. Charlemagne gets a nice huge section both in terms of the real man and mythic figure. The stories about the ring that ensnared him are here as all the historical details of conquests and battles.
What makes the series and this book as well, worth reading are the boxes and detail. While most retellings or description of Charlemagne and Roland just mention the Saracens as enemies, Osprey’s book offer details about them. It isn’t just simple the evil Other that must be destroyed. While their background is not as detailed as Charlemagne’s, the sense of culture and context is conveyed. Furthermore, while the Saga of Roland could not be reprinted in whole for this book, enough of the saga is included to give the reader a feel of it and allow the reader to decide whether or not to read the whole thing (you should read the whole by the way). The book does what is designed to do, introduce the legend and provide background. While designed for Middle School, it would be of aid to a high school or even college student who is confronting Roland and Charlemagne for the first time.
On a more personal note, I was so happy that Holger Danske got his own chapter. I remember seeing him at Kornberg Castle and reading various stories about him. For those that don’t know, Holger is like the Danish version of Arthur but without so much baggage. He sleeps in Kornberg (Hamlet’s Elsinore) waiting for the time when Denmark needs him again. Hans Christian Andersen is quoted as well in this section. Cresswell’s section about Danske is more developed than most others. Quite pleasing. This is furthered by later in the book with connections made to both Robert Browning and Stephen King.
The source section of the book is well done and includes websites.
If you have a child, or even a teen, who is expressing interests in heroes and legends, check out this volume and this series.