Monday, May 21, 2007

Review: Blood Red Crescent

The Blood Red Crescent by Henry Garnett
1960, Lepanto Press, 188 pages, Hardcover

The year is 1570. The Turkish Ottoman Empire has wrested control of the Mediterranean Seas, instilling fear in all who wish to sail there. They have been raiding the coastal towns of Italy, France and Spain, plundering and burning, and kidnapping Christians as slaves. On top of this, the Sultan has been rapidly increasing his fleet of galleys and Corsair pirates have been massacring more and more Christians or kidnapping them as slaves. With this heightened fear of invasion, the Pope issues a plea to form a Holy League (in the book it is called a Catholic League) to unite forces against the impending threat of Turkish forces.

But it is one thing to issue a plea for action and another to carry it out. The Holy League needs ships and men. Who can the Pope count on? Who will lead these forces? Christian Europe is feeling the ill effects of the Reformation and heresies. This takes Germany, France, and England out of the picture. In the end, Spain, Venice, Genoa, the Papal States, and others form a fleet. Here too petty jealousies, intemperance, and hot tempers cause dissension among the men from the various rival countries and republics. How can the Christians ever present a united front when they cannot even get along with one another? Only a miracle through prayer can bring about a victory.

As raids along the coast increase, the people of Venice fear the Turks will invade soon. Incensed at the cruelty of the Turks, Guido dreams of becoming a sailor someday and proving his bravery. His father, on the other hand, wishes to see him safe in a monastery far away and sends him there to learn his Latin. How can Guido change his father’s mind?

But, before Guido can even think of going into battle, he must first learn to use a crossbow and practice the skills he needs to defend himself. At the same time, Guido learns that heroics in battle are not enough. He needs to also learn to place his trust in God. His genuine devotion to the Blessed Mother at crucial points throughout the story is a helpful reminder to boys that praying to the Blessed Mother is not just something that pious, old women do.

The Blood Red Crescent is a fast-paced, swashbuckling drama of the battle of Lepanto that does not shy away from painting a realistic picture of the gruesome and tawdry aspects of war while at the same time highlighting the heroic moments of gallantry and chivalry.

While the story is accurately depicted and places an emphasis on the importance of prayer, confession and the mass, it does miss the important reference to the Pope calling on everyone to pray the rosary for victory. From the outset of forming the League, the Pope urged the faithful to pray and fast and especially pray the Rosary. In fact, “Each Christian in the League’s fleet had been given a rosary before the fleet sailed from Messina” (Chesterton, Lepanto, ed. Dale Ahlquist, Ignatius, 56). Initially the battle of Lepanto would be commemorated with the title of Our Lady of Victory in thanksgiving for God’s mercy in winning the battle, but later the feast was changed to Our Lady of the Rosary.

There is one glaring inconsistency in the book. At the very end of the book, one of the English characters talks about joining the ship of Francis Drake. You may want to discuss the fact that Francis Drake was a pirate and actually did not uphold the same values as the character who wishes to join his ship. This does not detract from the overall merit of the story.

If you would like to read more about the Battle of Lepanto, G. K. Chesterton has written the epic poem, Lepanto. The edition published by Ignatius includes commentaries, explanatory notes, and more.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Yank (5/21/07)
Available from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts and Emmanuel Books.

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