Dina L. Sleiman. Courageous. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2016. See here to buy the book.
Courageous is the third book of Dina L. Sleiman's Valiant Hearts series. The Valiant Hearts series is Christian historical fiction that is set in the thirteenth century. Courageous includes two characters who were in the second book, Chivalrous.
One character is Rosalind, a servant, who is dealing with guilt because
she had an abortion. Another character is Randel. In Courageous,
Randel wants to become a knight, whereas his parents want him to become
a clergyperson. They threaten to disown him if he goes against their
Courageous focuses on the Crusades. A group
of people from England are going to Tripoli to free some prisoners.
Among them is a young prophetess, Sapphira, who sees visions and
wrestles with her commitment to God, and her desire to live a normal
life. They are also guided by Sufi Muslims, who are alienated from the
broader Muslim community. Occasionally in the book, the narration
shifts from third person to first person, and the first person narration
is from the perspective of someone who is a spy for the other side.
This person is seeking revenge.
In terms of positives, the book
thoughtfully engages political and religious questions. There are
characters who defend the morality of the Crusades, as a way to take
back land that Muslims had conquered from Christians, and to take the
holy city of Jerusalem for the Christians. Dina Sleiman is not
unsympathetic, and yet the book acknowledges that there were many
Crusaders who committed gross atrocities, and it does not demonize
Muslims. In the book, there are descriptions of Muslim beliefs and
A salient religious discussion in the book occurs
after the death of a Sufi Muslim, Wassim, who was guiding the
Crusaders. Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam. Sapphira and the
man's sister, Rabia, are discussing the man's eternal destiny, since
Christians believe that one needs to be a Christian to go to heaven.
Rabia is asking Sapphira if she believes that Wassim is in hell, and
Sapphira is unsure if that is a good time to preach the Gospel.
Sapphira responds: "Is it fair to say that I hope there is something I
am not accounting for? That your brother perhaps found Christ somehow
during those divine experiences, or even at the moment of his death? I
do believe that Jesus is the only way, but I hope from the bottom of my
heart that your brother is happy in heaven right now" (page 227). It is
interesting to see how evangelical fiction wrestles with questions of
exclusivism and inclusivism, on the issue of salvation.
times in reading the book when I wondered if it was being a bit
anachronistic. Some characters in the book believe in justification by
grace through faith alone, whereas Catholicism and Islam are said in the
book to add penance or works as a requirement for salvation. Was a
belief in justification by grace through faith alone truly on the table
for people three centuries before the time of Martin Luther? Perhaps
some could read the Bible and arrive at that conclusion. One may
inquire, however, about the extent to which people would question their
cultural assumptions, and whether Sleiman depicts evangelical beliefs as
an option back then because she wishes to convey an evangelical
message. That said, the experiences of various characters in finding
peace with God were moving parts of the book.
the book, Rosalind is called a murderer because she had an abortion.
Yet, in the appendix, Sleiman acknowledges that "while at this time in
history abortion was considered a sin, it did not carry the punishment
of excommunication as it did in later times" (pages 357). Would
Rosalind being considered a murderer for having an abortion be
realistic, in light of that? There has long been discussion within
Judaism and Christianity about whether abortion is murder and when
exactly an unborn baby becomes a person. Sleiman did well to note the
historical nuance that abortion was not a sin that carried the
punishment of excommunication in the time that she depicts, but perhaps
she should have also included a brief paragraph in her appendix about
whether abortion was considered murder at this time.
plot could be plodding, in areas, and there were a lot of characters of
whom to keep track. Still, the book deserves four stars because it
wrestled well with historical, theological, and political issues.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
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