In his historical novel, Valfort. Chronicle of Oultre-Jourdain, Jérôme Lemoine invites us to travel to the Latin Eastern States of the 12the century, in the heart of a small seigneury torn by power struggles, diplomatic games between Christians and Muslims and the harshness of the arid climate. An original and attractive setting for this small, unpretentious medieval novel, rich in adventures and actions.
The plot takes place in the first half of the 12the century, in the small seigneury of Valfort, founded at the end of the First Crusade and forming part of the Eastern Latin States born of the same crusade. However, its existence owes only to the fragile balance of the various political forces in the Middle East. It is within this framework that the young knight Renaud, commissioned by the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, comes to obtain the evacuation of this seigniory in order to maintain this fragile balance and to respect the last diplomatic agreements.
However, neither the inhabitants of Valfort, from different religious denominations, nor his lord who happens to be his elder brother Gilbert, want to abandon their land of which they are mostly natives. The arrival of a group of Frankish warriors thinking only of plunder and slaughter may well complicate its mission and drag the small lordship into a deadly spiral.
Publibook Publishing, known to be self-publishing, has no de facto not a very good press. And this is felt very quickly in this book, revealing the novice novelist and the lack of any real work as an editor. The poorly mastered chaptering and the simplicity of the literary style are the best examples. Nevertheless, we must admit that we very quickly get caught up in the story, especially during the endless succession of clashes and battles in the second half of the novel. In addition, the simplicity of the style makes it possible to gain in lightness and to easily immerse oneself in the exciting but sometimes complicated period of the Crusades and the Latin States.
And this is where Jérôme Lemoine surprises with a fairly realistic vision of the Middle Ages - which is very rare in this literary genre. While the novel certainly exposes us to a world of bloody and violent conquests with a very caricature of Guaimar as a bellicose and bloodthirsty knight, it also shows us a tolerant and human world far from the usual clichés of this period despite some historical approximations and expression. The small seigneury of Valfort, bringing together Christians, Jews and Muslims, coexisting and helping each other despite inevitable tensions, can invite us to question our current world. In addition, the political situation in the Holy Land where the game of alliances is crucial, is perfectly well rendered while small sentences slipped here and there give to show an objective reality on this period. Think of the few lines on serfdom for example. Finally, let us also think about this interesting comment on these Franks of "Overseas", natives of these Eastern Latin States and knowing nothing about the West without wanting to know it and their future future with the loss of their lands.
In the end, we quickly get carried away by this distant journey until we are somewhat satisfied. The story is indeed quite short and could have benefited from being more developed, particularly with regard to the psychology of the different characters in order to gain depth and intensity. Nevertheless, succeeding in avoiding the trap of the vision of a too dark Middle Ages and not sinking into excessive Manichaeism, Jérôme Lemoine leads us with passion and interest in this Latin East of the 12the century especially if you are a fan of chivalrous scrums.
Jérôme Lemoine, Valfort. Chronicle of Oultre-Jourdain, Publibook Publishing, Paris, 2011.