Helena P. Schrader earned a PhD in History from the University of Hamburg with a ground-breaking biography of a leader of the German Resistance to Hitler. She has published numerous works of fiction and non-fiction since. She is a career diplomat currently serving in Africa.
For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight to historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.
Particularly, her Jerusalem Trilogy, set in the Holy Land in the late 12th century, has won critical acclaim. "Envoy of Jerusalem: Balian d’Ibelin and the Third Crusade" won Best Biography 2017 from Book Excellence Awards, Best Christian Historical Fiction 2017 from Readers’ Favorites, Best Spiritual/Religious Fiction 2017 from Feathered Quill Book Awards, Best Biographical Fiction 2016 from Pinnacle Book Achievement Award and an Honorable Mention for Wartime/Military Fiction at the Foreword INDIE Awards. "Defender of Jerusalem," won six literary accolades including the John E. Weaver Award for Best Historical Fiction: Middle Ages.
Visit http://www.helenapschrader.com or follow her blog: http://schradershistoricalfiction.blogspot.com for updates on current works, recent reviews and excerpts.
For more on the crusader kingdoms and Balian d’Ibelin visit: http://www.crusaderkigndoms.com or follow her blog on the Crusader Kingdoms at: http://defendingcrusaderkingdoms.blogspot.com
“...a surprisingly addictive narrative. Schrader is a deft, knowledgeable writer, capable of portraying a complicated historical period through accessible, descriptive prose .... With her focus on the individual, albeit imagined, personal dramas of the primary protagonists, Schrader brings detail, excitement, and life to a bygone era.”
– Kirkus Reviews
In Schrader’s collection of novellas, men of the Royal Air Force try to make it through World War II without losing their sense of self.
In these three novellas, British airmen struggle with the complex roles that they must fill during and after their time at war. The first, A Stranger in the Mirror, tells the story of David “Banks” Goldman, a fighter pilot who’s lucky to have survived the destruction of his Hurricane. He didn’t make it out unscathed, however: His hands and his face have been burned beyond recognition. Reconstructive surgery can give him a new face, although it will take a lot of time and cause him a great deal of pain, and the chances of him flying again are slim. He wonders if a Banks who can’t fly and who wears a different visage is truly the same person. In A Rose in November, Rhys Jenkins, a widower and father of two, is perhaps too old to fight when the war begins—he had his share of that in the previous one—but he’s just received his dream posting as the “chiefy,” or ground chief, of a Spitfire squadron. When he meets Hattie Fitzsimmons, an officer in the Salvation Army who’s in a different social class, he’s forced to choose between his heart and his duty. The final novel, Lack of Moral Fibre, is a tale of objection. Kit Moran has flown 36 operations, and he refuses to fly a 37th. He is declared “LMF”—“lacking moral fiber”—and sent to a mental health facility for evaluation. If his psychiatrist, Ralph Grace, can find a medical reason for his refusal, he’ll receive treatment. If not, he’ll be punished for cowardice. Kit’s reasons for objecting turn out to be more complex than he can understand.
Over the course of this collection, Schrader’s prose is understated but often arresting, as when Banks works up the courage to look at his own burned face: “An image took shape in the glass. A mummy with glistening, shifting eyes. There was something inherently terrifying about a moving mummy because it suggested the return of the dead.” The stories here offer the reader compelling psychological explorations of men grappling with the traumas of war and attempting to find places for themselves in civilian society. In this way, the narratives have a timeless feel, but part of the joy of Schrader’s work is the way in which she brings the reader into highly specific, less-illuminated corners of British WWII history. A Stranger in the Mirror, with its exploration of traumatic injury, is perhaps the strongest of the pieces, but each of the others immerses the reader in a world of its own, with its own rules, shames, and dangers. Together, the novellas paint a grimly vivid portrait of what the average RAF serviceman might have experienced while also limning the contradictory ideals that they attempted—and often failed—to live up to during wartime.
An impressive and memorable trio of works about the many costs of war.
Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2021
Page count: 356pp
Publisher: Cross Seas Press
Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2021
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022
In Schrader’s historical epic, a group of Germans acts against the Nazi regime.
Germany, 1938. Chancellor Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party have changed the face of Germany. While many Germans seem to almost worship the new leader, the young Baron Philip von Feldberg is not so sure about the direction the country has taken. “Philip noted the huge Nazi flag flapping before the station and caught sight of the straw swastikas hung on the Christmas tree at the post office. In one of the store windows, someone had placed a photo of Adolf Hitler and adorned it with greens and a candle as if it were the picture of the Virgin or a saint.” Regardless of his feelings for the Führer, Philip is a member of the German General Staff, the group of men who will be in charge of executing the war that Hitler seems to be itching to start. It turns out he isn’t the only Hitler-skeptical member of the General Staff. He soon strikes up a friendship—and more—with an outspoken secretary named Alexandra Mollwitz. There are others who are horrified by the Nazi’s excesses: Marianne Moldenhauer, a fed-up factory worker; Peter Kessler, a disillusioned Gestapo officer; even Alexandra’s boss, Gen. Friedrich Olbricht. But are these Germans willing to betray their government in order to save Germany—and maybe the world—from destruction? Schrader’s prose is spare but fluid, as here when illustrating a camp Marianne attends during her national labor service: “The Duty Leader woke the girls in the barrack with the usual loud ringing of the bell, followed by shouts of ‘Wake up! Wake up!’ A chorus of groans and muttered curses could be heard as the girls rolled out of their bunks, and the everyday chaos of a hundred girls rushing to the showers began.” The author is less adept at handling some of the romantic relationships—they are quickly established and largely uncomplicated—but romance is perhaps not the point of the book. The novel is a deeply researched window into the wartime lives of Germans at odds with Hitler’s regime, and while the story of Operation Valkyrie may be well known, Schrader offers the larger context for the German resistance with admirable depth and detail.
A rich historical novel of Germans who plotted against Hitler.
Pub Date: June 1, 2021
Publisher: Cross Seas Press
Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2021
Schrader, the author of The Emperor Strikes Back (2019), re-creates a pivotal period in World War II in this updated version of her 2007 novel.
In 1940, 24-year-old Royal Air Force fighter pilot Robin Priestman is injured on a difficult mission over France and forced to take leave at home in England. At a local canteen, he meets Emily Pryce, a smart Cambridge University grad, and the two fall quietly in love, foiling Robin’s mother’s plans to marry him to an heiress. When his broken ankle heals, he becomes a flight instructor for the RAF, tasked with turning very young men into flying aces. It’s not easy, and Robin’s anxiety about leading these boys into war is palpable in his solitary moments. In Germany, Klaudia von Richthofen has just joined the German Air Force Female Auxiliaries, surrounded by Nazi pilots, whom she sees as romantic heroes. Parallel stories from the German and British camps emerge: British pilot George “Ginger” Bowles is homesick and self-conscious about his lower-class status; Lt. Ernst Geuke, an inexperienced German wingman, worries he’ll never measure up to the Aryan ideal; he pines for Klaudia, who initially doesn’t give him the time of day. In the background are fears of capture or death by bomb or plane. Scenes exploring the characters’ inner lives are compelling, especially on the German side; for example, to Klaudia, Nazism is just about following rules, fitting in, and living up to her famous surname (she’s related to the infamous “Red Baron”), but back in her home village of Silesia, “Everyone still said good morning rather than ‘Heil Hitler’.” Schrader also succeeds in accurately portraying the bombing raids and defense missions that made up the Battle of Britain military campaign. Despite uneven pacing and occasional typographical errors, the story holds up, building to a satisfying, cinematic finale in which a few characters’ fates collide. Readers may find some of the plentiful military jargon difficult to parse despite the glossary included. However, Schrader’s attention to detail is sure to win over veterans, pilots, and military history buffs.
A painstakingly researched war story with complex characterizations.
Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2020
Page count: 594pp
Publisher: Cross Seas Press
Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2020
A European emperor goes to war with his own Crusader subjects in this historical novel.
Frederick II Hohenstaufen, the Holy Roman emperor, is the nominal overlord of Outremer—the Crusader states that European Christians established in the Holy Land. But Frederick’s temporary treaty with the sultan of the Saracens has made him unpopular with Outremer’s Christians, who feel beset by enemies on all sides. What’s more, the emperor’s claim to the throne of Jerusalem is being disputed by the local lords there. In all these matters, Frederick blames John d’Ibelin, the honorable lord of Beirut, who recently seized Cyprus from the emperor’s chosen governors and who has won the favor of the land’s teenage king, Henry. Frederick strips John of his title and of Beirut itself, ordering that the Ibelins “vacate the city within 30 days of the judgment of this court or face the consequences of their treason.” As the emperor moves to subdue his own subjects, the embattled Ibelins—including John’s impulsive but capable heir, Balian, and his teenage daughter, Bella, who aspires to become a nun—are left to protect all they have built while withstanding the wrath of an entire empire. Schrader’s (Rebels Against Tyranny, 2018, etc.) prose manages to summon the culture and time period of the Crusader states while remaining light and readable: “As far as the Archbishop knew, this man had not committed any great sins—at least not recently. There were rumors, of course. Whispers of nuns ravaged and churches plundered, but from long ago, and the victims had been Greek, in any case.” The houses and backstories are as dense as anything from Frank Herbert or George R.R. Martin, and this slows the pace down a bit even as Schrader attempts to hew to the tales of a few main characters. The amount of detail and underlying research in the novel is remarkable, and fans of history will not mind the digressions and connections that ornament the plot. The author manages to spin quite an epic out of this relatively obscure historical event, bringing a vibrant forgotten world to life in the process.
An impressively imagined empire tale set in the medieval Levant.
Pub Date: July 19, 2019
Page count: 433pp
Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2019
In Schrader’s (The Last Crusader Kingdom, 2017, etc.) historical novel, the Ibelin family fights to protect their honor and their position against a tyrannical Holy Emperor in 13th-century Cyprus and the Middle East.
The handsome, recently knighted Sir Balian II of the House of Ibelin can’t please his father, John d’Ibelin, Lord of Beirut, who considers his eldest son and heir to be impulsive and decadent; moreover, his reputation as a lady’s man seems inescapable. His uncle, Philip, is baillie of Cyprus on behalf of the 7-year-old King Henry I, and he strives to keep the peace in the land. When Amaury Barlais, a bitter knight, nearly kills someone after accusing him of cheating in a joust, he becomes the Ibelin family’s enemy for life. In Sicily, Frederick II Hohenstaufen, the Holy Roman Emperor, weds the young Yolanda, queen of Jerusalem, for a political alliance, but when he doesn’t keep his word regarding royal succession, it sets off a terrible chain of events. The emperor also wants to win back the Holy Land from the Saracens, and he calls on his subjects to help him. This sprawling work is full of excitement, with plenty of jousts, sieges, and daring escapes. The story features a huge cast of characters, and it takes readers on adventures through Cyprus, Acre, Jaffa, and other locales; however, there are maps, family trees, and character descriptions at the beginning that will help wayward readers. The well-meaning but flawed Sir Balian is a great central figure—a bit like William Shakespeare’s portrayal of the young Prince Hal, without being too clever for his (and his people’s) own good. The leading female characters, meanwhile, aren’t blushing maidens waiting to be rescued but rather forceful actors in their own rights.
An exciting royal adventure with a large cast.
Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2018
Page count: 454pp
Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2018
Schrader (Envoy of Jerusalem: Balian d’Ibelin and the Third Crusade, 2016, etc.) follows up her Jerusalem Trilogy with an imaginative, fictionalized account of the d’Ibelin and Lusignan families and the founding of the Kingdom of Cyprus.
By the last decade of the 12th century, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was reduced to one-fourth its original size. Even the city of Jerusalem was now held by the Saracens (Arab Muslims), who had overwhelmed the Christian lords and knights in 1187 and 1188. The novel opens in 1193, and Balian d’Ibelin (a celebrated knight, member of the high court, and husband of Maria Zoë Comnena, dowager queen of Jerusalem) now lives in reduced circumstances in the manor house of his barony in Caymont. When he learns that Aimery de Lusignan, constable of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, has been arrested for treason under orders from Henri de Champagne, he travels to a palace in Acre to broker a deal with Champagne. Balian has a special interest in the affair. Aimery is married to Eschiva, Balian’s niece. Champagne agrees to the terms: Aimery resigns his position and is released to join his brother Guy de Lusignan, Lord of Cyprus, to help maintain rule over the rebellious Orthodox Greek Cypriots. Thus begins the eventual migration of the Lusignan and d’Ibelin families to Cyprus. Readers may find the extensive character list, which occupies several pages, and complex relationships daunting. Plus, there is a plethora of alliances, marriages, and historic, cultural, and religious clashes to be navigated. But just a bit of effort brings the reward of a surprisingly addictive narrative. Schrader is a deft, knowledgeable writer, capable of portraying a complicated historical period through accessible, descriptive prose (“The gold mosaics, the blue, turquoise, and aqua-colored tiles, the marble fountains, and the potted hibiscus”). With her focus on the individual, albeit imagined, personal dramas of the primary protagonists, Schrader brings detail, excitement, and life to a bygone era. And she offers a little something for everyone: royal intrigue, rivalry, bloody battles, love, tragedy, and memorable characters.
Best for fans of historical fiction but engaging enough for a broader audience.
Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2017
Page count: 412pp
Review Posted Online: Nov. 23, 2017
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018
In this third installment of Schrader’s (Defender of Jerusalem, 2015, etc.) series of historical novels on the life of crusader Balian d’Ibelin, the Christian and Islamic worlds vie for control of the Holy Land during the Third Crusade.
As the story begins, Jerusalem has fallen to Salah ad-Din Yusuf, sultan of Egypt and Damascus. Through clever negotiation, Balian secures the citizens’ lives, as well as the release of anyone able to pay a ransom; still, many thousands of poor people get sold into slavery, a fact that haunts Balian through the rest of the novel. After the death of Jerusalem’s Queen Sibylla, many question the idea that the usurper, King Guy de Lusignan—characterized as being “despised for leading the Christian army to an unnecessary defeat and losing the entire Kingdom as a result”—has the right to rule. Against a backdrop of flailing military campaigns to retake lost cities, a complicated scheme unfolds to put the queen’s sister, Balian’s stepdaughter, Isabella, on the throne after she repudiates her marriage to the ineffectual Humphrey de Toron and marries the more ambitious Conrad de Montferrat. The rift between the two pretenders to the throne is further complicated by the arrival of the kings of France and England, who each back a different claimant. But the presence of the larger-than-life King Richard the Lionheart, who ‘had seemed invincible—indeed, immortal,’ reinvigorates the Christian fighting forces, leading the armies to improbable victories. Overall, the novel’s prose is fluid and engaging, and Schrader presents the dialogue in clear, generally formal, modern language. However, this style may frustrate sticklers who are more concerned with authenticity than accessibility; for example, King Richard uses contemporary idiom when commenting on Guy de Lusignan’s chances of being chosen king: “He doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.” The volume of characters in the book can be daunting, especially as many take turns providing their own points of view. When clearly signaled, these shifts can offer engaging glimpses into the world of the story, but when they happen multiple times in the span of only a few pages, it can become confusing.
An often entertaining novel of particular interest to fans of military epics and historical political intrigues.
Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2016
Page count: 514pp
Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2016
Schrader (Knight of Jerusalem, 2014, etc.) delivers the second book in a historical fiction trilogy about12th-century crusader Balian d’Ibelin.
The first volume in this series saw Balian rise from the position of a landless knight to a baron over the course of nearly a decade. At the outset of this installment, the year is 1178 and Balian is married to the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, Maria. The “exceptionally tall, dark-haired and well tanned” Balian visits with the very ill king of Jerusalem. The king hopes to settle his succession, so his concern rests with Balian, and those whose job it is to defend the Holy Land. Muslim forces, including those under the control of Salah ad-Din, are bent on the destruction of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and available resources are spread thin. What can be done “to keep the Holy Land safe for Christian settlers and Christian pilgrims”? Enter the infamous Knights Templar, who propose building a fort at Jacob’s Ford on the Upper Jordan. As construction progresses and blood is spilled, readers are taken on a journey into a time of hostile multiculturalism. People as diverse as Scottish knights, Greek clergy, and the Fatimid Caliphate converge in peaceful and not-so-peaceful ways as the book deftly paints a time of international conflict. The idea that Europeans ever had a stronghold in the Middle East, let alone a kingdom, may surprise readers unfamiliar with the time period. Regardless of readers’ knowledge, however, the era will prove indisputably fascinating as cultures (and swords) clash. The descriptions can be lengthy and occasionally obvious, such as when wealthy guests at an important wedding are said to come “bearing gifts with an eye to gaining favor,” or when Maria reflects on the possibility of her husband dying: “what a bleak and desolate place this world would be without him!” Taken as a whole, though, the novel succeeds in exploring not only Balian himself, but also the time and place that might produce such a man. Despite its many formalities, honorable words, and pleas to God, it’s an era that may leave many readers wondering, as one character does about the Christian forces, “Why didn’t God help them?”
Fans of the genre will find much to treasure in this action-ready, if occasionally simplified, historical depiction.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015
Page count: 630pp
Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2015
Envoy of Jerusalem: BALIAN D'IBELIN AND THE THIRD CRUSADE: Best Biography, Book Excellence Awards, 2017
Envoy of Jerusalem: BALIAN D'IBELIN AND THE THIRD CRUSADE: Best Christian Historical Fiction, Readers Favorites, 2017
Envoy of Jerusalem: BALIAN D'IBELIN AND THE THIRD CRUSADE: Best Spiritual/Religious Fiction, Feathered Quill, 2017
Envoy of Jerusalem: BALIAN D'IBELIN AND THE THIRD CRUSADE: Honorable Mention, Military/Wartime Fictin, Foreword INDIES, 2017
Envoy of Jerusalem: BALIAN D'IBELIN AND THE THIRD CRUSADE: Best Biographical Fiction, Pinnacle Awards, 2016
Envoy of Jerusalem: BALIAN D'IBELIN AND THE THIRD CRUSADE: First in Category, Chaucer Awards, 2016
Defender of Jerusalem: A BIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL OF BALIAN D'IBELIN: Silver, Christian Historical Fiction, Readers' Favorites, 2016
Defender of Jerusalem: A BIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL OF BALIAN D'IBELIN: Silver, Spiritual/Religious Fiction, Feathered Quill, 2016
Defender of Jerusalem: A BIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL OF BALIAN D'IBELIN: First in Category, Chaucer Awards, 2016
Defender of Jerusalem: A BIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL OF BALIAN D'IBELIN: Finalist, M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction, 2015
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