Hunted by demons. Lost in time.

Welcome to the First Crusade.

Syria, 636: As heretic invaders circle Jerusalem, young Lukas Bessarion vows to defend his people. Instead, disaster strikes. His family is ripped apart. His allies are slaughtered. And Lukas is hurled across the centuries to a future where his worst nightmares have come true…

Constantinople, 1097: Ayla may be a heretic beggar, but she knows one thing for sure: six months from now, she will die. Before then, she must avenge her father’s murder—or risk losing her soul.

Desperate to find their way home, Lukas and Ayla join the seven armies marching east to liberate Jerusalem. If Lukas succeeds in his quest, he’ll undo the invasion and change the course of history.

But only if he survives the war.

Only if his enemies from the past don’t catch him.

And only as long as Ayla never finds out who he really is.

This historical fantasy begins with a unique spin on the time travel trope—instead of a modern-day person being sucked back in time, a disrupted spell hurls a Seventh Century patrician youth named Lukas 400 years into the future, into the middle of the first Crusade. Lukas teams up with a young woman named Ayla, and the pair join the entourage of Raymond St. Giles, a French nobleman leading his people to Palestine so they can retake the city of Jerusalem for Christendom. Lukas is a member of a mysterious group of Christian mystics known as the Watchers, while Ayla, a Muslim, struggles with the ethical dilemmas that come with serving a lord intent on destroying her people while trying to fulfill an oath to avenge her father’s death. Nevertheless, as the pair travel with the Crusaders, their regard for each other grows, even while they continue to hide secrets from each other.

Our Thoughts

The rich historical details were impressive in this novel and Rowntree does an outstanding job bringing the ordeals of the first Crusade to full, vibrant life. The journey was filled with vivid depictions of battles, politicking, and the despair stirred by all the hardships of the road. The story contains plenty of supernatural elements—including possession, clairvoyance, and full-on sorcery, but some reviewers still thought the amount of magic ran a bit thin for a fantasy novel.

On the whole, we admired Rowntree’s characterizations. Although some team members thought Lukas was too entitled to be likeable, we all enjoyed rooting for Ayla and Raymond. The pacing also easily held our attention. Many books covering a journey can grow tedious, but Rowntree did a terrific job laying out the many conflicts on and off the battlefield, keeping us engaged. The romance plotline didn’t work for everyone on the team, and some thought the conclusion could have been strengthened by some additional character development.

Selected comments from our judging team

A. M.

I wanted to love this book and I ended up only liking it, which was in itself a disappointment. It engaged me right away, and in contrast to several teammates, I liked Lukas, particularly his obvious love for his family and concern for their welfare. Ayla was a winner of a character—very easy to root for—and I felt an immediate fondness for Raymond and his commitment to seeing all his people safely to Palestine, and I particularly enjoyed the depiction of the travails of the pilgrimage itself. The writing was great. The pacing great. Yet although all the ingredients for a GREAT novel were there, in the end they weren’t quite mixed together well enough, and the book ended up only as a good novel—hence my disappointment.

For me, the bottom line is, although I liked the characters, none of their relationships were developed well enough that the tragedies at the end really hit hard. Tragedies beset all three main characters, and the conclusions to each of their stories should have been a gut punch, but I shrugged off each ending and flipped the page. A lot of events that occurred off-page would have served readers better if they had been described in the book rather than summarized in dialogue or internal reflection. Had we lived through these events with the characters, I think the tragedies at the end would have had me reaching for the tissues instead of closing the book and moving on to my next read.


I liked almost every aspect of the story except for Lukas. He behaves like an entitled, spoilt brat for most of the story, and this is quite off-putting. I have read a few characters like him in other books, but where the others won me over eventually, this didn’t occur with Lukas. I am not sure if the author is setting him up for a series-level character arc. It would be great if that were the case.

The other characters, like Ayla, Raymond St. Gilles, and Bohemond were much more palatable. Ayla is a much more sympathetic character, even though she arguably commits more crimes than Lukas. Sir Raymond is my favourite with his commitment to his honour and people, despite the politicking inflicted upon him. He is pragmatic to a certain extent, which makes him a more realistic good person than others.

The worldbuilding is quite good. The setting feels so much like a Guy Gavriel Kay novel with the amount of detail and authenticity. The magic is not much, but it is just enough to keep the fantasy elements alive. I liked the overall mix since I am a sucker for history and retellings of historical elements. The book is a semi-easy read due to the decent pacing as well as the interesting story.


This was a beautiful looking book, but the story didn’t really grab me. I felt like I was reading a historical romance rather than a historical fantasy, even though there were fantasy elements sprinkled throughout the book. The author certainly knows her stuff regarding this time period, and I much preferred St. Gilles point of view to the two younger protagonists. I didn’t like Lukas very much at all, he didn’t seem to grow much as person. I did like Ayla, however; there was something a bit more real about her.


This is a deeply researched historical fantasy and an intricately involved story that requires one to pay strict attention. I enjoyed the setting, which is different than most Eurocentric types found in fantasy. And a reverse time portal was a draw for me. I did enjoy the characters and there was enough growth throughout the story to make the ending worth the read. The magic here is a background element until the smashing conclusion brings all the players and powers to the fore.

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Our judges are A. M. Justice, Amanda Cenker, Julia Kitvaria Sarene, Kartik Narayanan, Kerry Smith, Lynn Kempner, and Mariëlle Ooms-Voges. If you’d like to learn more about us, including our likes and dislikes, you can read about them here.

Any queries should be directed to A. M. Justice via DM (Facebook/Twitter).


By A. M. Justice

A. M. Justice is an award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy, a freelance science writer, and an amateur astronomer, scuba diver, and once and future tango dancer. She currently lives in Brooklyn with a husband, a daughter, and two cats. You can follow her on Twitter @AMJusticeWrites.

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