Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Review: Behold the Dawn by K.M. Weiland

Marcus Annan, a tourneyer famed for his prowess on the battlefield, thought he could keep the secrets of his past buried forever. But when a mysterious crippled monk demands Annan help him find justice for the transgressions of sixteen years ago, Annan is forced to leave the tourneys and join the Third Crusade. Wounded in battle and hunted by enemies on every side, he rescues an English noblewoman from an infidel prison camp and flees to Constantinople. But, try as he might, he cannot escape the past. Amid the blood and sweat of a war he doesn’t even believe in, he is forced at last to face long-hidden secrets and sins and to bare his soul to the mercy of a God he thought he had abandoned years ago.

As my sisters can attest, I was–yes–squealing with delight the first time I read this. (In fact, screaming with delight would probably be more accurate, but we’ll leave that aside.) And–what's more–it almost made me cry, something in my life that only about three other books have ever been able to do.

First off, some particulars: it’s very well-written in an excellent style (if the two can ever be separated). There’s an occasional modernism (particularly in the dialogue), but it’s not too jarring and overall works well. I particularly appreciated Weiland’s clear-eyed, balanced view of the Crusades, and how she brought out both the strengths and weaknesses of the medieval church.

As a whole I’d say it’s for mature readers (adult or older high-school). It’s never disturbing or indecent, but it is intense and there’s quite a bit of violent action and corresponding romance. At the same time, it’s written in such a way that the exact import of certain situations would go right over your head if you didn't know what they were talking about (another instance of the excellence of the writing).

And now on to the rest of it…

My sister and I have come to the conclusion that it's a whole lot easier to convincingly incorporate biblical language and conflicts into medieval literature. Whether or not that’s accurate, Behold the Dawn is a superb example. God and the worship of God are very present–as well as each of the main characters' personal calling to serve Him.

Spoilers may be inevitable in the following and I’ll try not to give too many (hence I won’t give names), but I do want to delve a little deeper here than a basic review warrants–into the metaphors and matter that good stories are made of–the matter that calls for tears and laughter.

In Behold the Dawn the stakes are high and the characters complex. Redemption and damnation are played out together: bad characters change for the good, and good characters go downhill and stay there–highlighting the danger. It’s realistic: rosy endings aren’t handed out to everyone. It’s weighty: details are told by inference, insinuation, and allusion, creating a depth where you fill in the blanks for yourself and establishing that give-and-take between the author’s and reader’s imagination which all good literature incites.

There are messy, sinful situations, but the writing tone never crosses the line of dignity, descending into mush. The romance between the main characters is powerful, clearly (and pointedly) coming to what it should be between a man and wife, but never going blatant. Also (and this is very well done), their relationship isn’t in an encapsulated bubble, but is a part of and affected by the entire overarching story as a whole.

Now–all that being out of the way–we come to the part that really starts to thrill. The protagonist is a sinner, but due to metaphor (for which you can check out last week's post), he is also a Christ-figure and through the entire story the glimpses of a redeemer-kinsman are absolutely incredible. He literally covers her and–in essence–really does die for her–laying down his life as a faithful husband–passing through death for her.

And of course, there’s the redemption aspect: the tingly, knock-you-down, hard-as-rock redemption–played out in time and space with mounting tension. The climax hits and you’re caught up in a breathless whirlwind of joy–the joy that calls for tears. Joy at the root of which lies grace–pursuing, cutting grace, razor-sharp–the grace that grabs hold and will not let you go.

P.S. K.M. Weiland is a Christian author living and writing in Nebraska. On her writing blog, Helping Writers Become Authors, she describes herself as, “A fighter, a writer, a child of God.” Isn’t that a wonderful description?


  1. Wow, thank you so much for a one of the nicest reviews I've ever received! Behold the Dawn has a special place in my heart. Three novels later, it's still my favorite of all my literary children. So it's always a tremendous pleasure to me to hear that others have enjoyed it as well. And I agree with you: Christian themes *are* naturally prominent in medieval settings.

    1. You're most welcome... It was a pleasure to do. :-) And thank you for commenting!

  2. Hi Heidi! :)
    Well, I know this is kind of an old post of yours, but I was browsing your blog and stumbled upon this review....
    Right now I am currently reading K. M. Weiland's Story Structure book and it is SO good. It's given me SO much food for thought for my current WIP! When I found out she was a Christian and even a former homeschooler, my respect for her and her book grew! :) Anyways, I'm really interested in getting some of her fiction books...this one in particular. Except-my library doesn't have them! :( I suppose I'll have to buy them sometime. Have you read any of her "writing" books?

    1. Natalie,
      I love comments on "old" posts! ;)

      Behold the Dawn is honestly and scrumptiously fantastic. Really and truly. It's one of my top ten favorite books.

      And yes, I have! Both Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. I also follow her blog: It's my favorite writing blog as I love her balanced approach (structured yet flexible) -- and she's always most encouraging!

      But about Behold the Dawn.... You could always try putting in a purchase request at the library, too. That's what I did and then when I knew how much I loved it I went ahead and got my own copy. :)

    2. I'll just have to get my hands on it soon then. :) It sounds SO good.

      I can't wait to try her other writing book as well! And yes-I have looked at her blog some. It'll be fun to explore it more. She seems to have a lot of good tips and advice. :)



Oh, you're thinking of leaving a comment! How entirely lovely -- thank you and please do!! :) I just ask that all comments be God-honoring and edifying. (And btw, I LOVE comments on old posts! ;))

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