[629]: Pillars of Light by Jane Johnson


Pillars of Light

by Jane Johnson

Double Day Canada          January 5th, 2016             3 out of 5 Stars    Historical Fiction

Jane Johnson’s Pillars of Light has been compared to likes of Diana Gabaldon’s books. For what reason, I don’t really know. Perhaps it’s the historical setting, or the writing even. Whatever it is, I felt the same way about Gabaldon’s books as I did Johnson’s: a visceral disconnection with the events taking place, and the general lack of empathy towards the characters.

Pillars of Light is – essentially – a two books in one type of reads. Set in the time of the Crusades, it tells the story of a Jewish doctor and a Muslim woman’s forbidden love affair. Zorah’s loyalty was to her family first and foremost. And while Nathanael’s parents were of liberal beliefs, they worried that their son constantly flirted with danger every time they meet.

On the other side of the globe, a group of miscreants traveled through Europe, duping Christendom of their money by selling faux religious artifacts while recruiting crusaders along the way. All in the name of Christ. I was fully vested to see the stories through. I wanted to see how they would intersect. To my disappointment, however, I found that the thread was very long, very fragile and very thin.

Jane Johnson wrote the struggle, the hunger, the disease brought by warfare with efficacy. For that, she was a wiz. She also showed how dangerous a relationship between Muslim and a Jew could be with every clandestine meeting Zorah and Nat ever had. In the meantime, John Savage and The Moor of the Traveling Crooks had an implied love affair that was barely explored. I must admit that both stories could’ve been better explored, better represented. It was always on the cusp of being great but sadly fell short. It lacked the emotions necessary for a reader to feel the connection – to the characters, to the stories.

However, if you are familiar with the history of Crusades, you might recognize some events that took place. Unfortunately, my knowledge of this war was relegated to Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. I did find it very helpful because the movie depicted a Sultan who forgave the invaders and allowed them to leave Jerusalem on their free will, as it did in the beginning of the book.

All in all, even though I didn’t fully appreciate Jane Johnson’s relative interpretation of particular events in the Crusades, I saw how important it is to her to give such a barbaric event a human perspective. The romance helped a bit, but I missed the connection between Zorah and Nat’s romance and the story of the Traveling Crooks. As a reader, I know I’m at fault when I focused more on the romance rather than the opportunity to learn more about a part of the History which, arguably, began the difficult relationship between Muslims and the world as we know it. And for that, I feel the need to apologize. 

  • I can’t get into the history aspects some times too Joy, I prefer to see the relationship aspect.

  • I find historical fiction quite a difficult genre for me to get into, but I’ll keep this one in mind if I ever feel like a rec or a challenge!

  • Oooh, ”serious reads”. I need more of those. Mindless entertainments start to bore me. I need something that’ll make me reflect. This looks like a pretty intense book. 🙂 Great review!!

  • I have to admit that the part about the Crusades would draw me in and I enjoy Diana Gabaldon’s books as well, so I definitely need to check this out. But, I need my romance like you, lol. Thanks for the new discovery 🙂

  • I’ve also heard the comparison to Diana Gabaldon but I haven’t read either series. While I’m glad the relationship and historical aspects were delved into, I think I would also want more from this one. I get bored otherwise.

  • Jenn

    Bummer that you weren’t able to really connect with this read. I haven’t read it myself but I can see how it may have you all over the place :-/

  • I don’t see a problem with focusing on the romance. A good romance adds so much to a novel.

  • shootingstarsmag

    Like Keertana said, I wouldn’t feel bad about wanting more romance or focusing more on that. People go into books differently and what works for one won’t work for others. It sounds like this COULD have been a really good book if the author had connected the stories better and delved into the topics more.


  • Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings

    I don’t think you need to feel bad for focusing on the romance, honestly. Every reader is going to take something different away from every book, even one like this where the message the author wants to leave the reader with seems really obvious, but I think it’s beauty of reading that we go into a novel not knowing quite how we’ll leave changed afterwards and I don’t think you need to apologize, at all, for feeling as if you didn’t connect with the take-aways the author wanted you to. It’s something I understand but also your feelings are entirely valid. 🙂

  • Sorry to hear the romance wasnt doing it for you.

  • I like this. I’m on a Chinese, general fiction, historical kick lately. I have to scour my library and see if I have something like this. I’m tired of the usual, Joy! Gah

  • This could be interesting..but it should be done well

  • Gorgeous review Joy. <3 Hugs. I'm glad you liked this one 😀 But aw, I'm sorry it wasn't all that good. And you didn't love the romance? That is aaaalways disappointing. Sigh. Doesn't sound like a story for me at all, though I do like historical books, sometimes 😀 Thank you for sharing sweetie. <3

  • Aw the disconnect is not good. And while I see that you felt guilty about what you took from it, I do think that most people would also concentrate on the romance. I always look at fiction as a springboard to learning something and not the destination.

  • kindlemom1

    Interesting that people would compare this with the Outlander series, totally different times. Sorry it didn’t quite work for you, it is hard to love a story when you can’t connect with anything.

  • I’m sorry you weren’t able to fully connect with the story. I feel like I would too because I’m very vague on the history being discussed here. I don’t think you should apologize either, because I’m the same way. I’ll always focus on the romance more. If I’m learning something extra, then awesome!

  • I don’t think you have any need to apologize for anything you read or enjoy or part of the story you enjoy. I read books about mythical creatures that have very little actual history to them. You read for the fun of it. If you learn something, that is icing on the cake. And I do think we learn from reading fiction. We learn more about people and interacting with people. We might learn about different things like police procedures or other professions. We might learn some history or some mythology we didn’t know before. Enjoy the story for what you want out of it. 🙂

    Melanie @ Hot Listens & Rabid Reads

  • I’m a little embarrassed because of my preference for romance as well. Although, when you think of romance as the beating heart of a story, it becomes a little less trivial. What’s a body without its heart, after all?

  • It’s a shame that you never really felt emotionally invested in the story because of the distance from the characters. And then what you were looking forward to – which was the coming together of the two storylines – turned out to be a little disappointing. I don’t think this is really one for me :/