SPFBO6 FINALIST: A Wind From the Wilderness by Suzannah Rowntree

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A Wind from the Wilderness tells the story of the First Crusade, with a magical twist. It follows three characters, for the most part. First we see the story from the POV of Lukas Bessarion. He is a Watcher, a sort of… Christian Warrior for God. He and his family are battling an evil sorcerer in Syria, in the year 636 AD when suddenly he finds himself in Constantinople in 1097 AD. 

In Constantinople, he finds Ayla, a Turk beggar girl who is bent on avenging her father’s death before her own, which was prophesied to be 9 months away. She bumps into Lukas and they join forces to help him get back to his own time. 

Finally we see this one from the POV of Saint-Gilles, who is the Frankish commander of the one of the 7 armies that are marching to liberate Jerusalem. He takes Lukas on as a translator, as Lukas can speak several of the languages that are spoken in the area. There is plenty of political maneuvering and other shenanigans of the like along the way.

This one gave me the same vibe as a GGK book. It’s beautifully written, and takes place in an alternate history that definitely looks at least a little bit familiar to historians. The world and the characters in it are well described, and it’s more of a slow build-up to the ending, rather than pulse-pounding action the entire way through. 

I liked this one, but I didn’t love it, and I think for me that it came down to the characters. I wasn’t really a fan of any of the Franks, so a lot of Saint-Gilles chapters fell flat for me. I liked Lukas and Ayla, but only sort of mildly. The writing itself was enough to keep me picking this one up though. The prose was so lovely.

If you’re a fan of GGK or a fan of historical retellings, I would definitely suggest giving A Wind from the Wilderness a look. 7/10 stars!~


While I found the prologue pretty dense and therefore a bit slower; Chapter One’s first paragraph was quite catchy since one of the main characters, Ayla, knows the precise date she’s going to die. Her father told her about the circumstances of her impending doom and now she’s in a sublime state of “I don’t give a fuck, it’s not like I’m going to die today”, and I was there for it.

This is set in Anatolia 1097 AD. The Romans, Greeks, and Turks are all living side by side, but they don’t necessarily enjoy that. Ayla thinks of the Greeks as dumb and violent, and is disguising herself as a boy and goes by the name Kismet. She runs into Lukas, a nobleman who’s in a bad way, far from home, and without any money. She offers him work on a ship which will eventually go back to Antioch where he may have some family. Although she had good intentions and tries to help him, the captain would rather sell him as a slave because he thinks he’ll get more money that way. He claims to be a close relative of a Emperor Herclius… but, he lived hundreds of years ago.  Lukas is another POV and he’s been transported hundreds of years into the future and is freaking out, like you should when something like that happens.

There’s a side character named Gilles who is kind of hard to relate to; he’s a very rigid religious person and he’s not particularly friendly, either. The reader meets him as he’s addressing the Emperor and accusing him of betraying his people – risky move, bro. There’s a heavy use of religion which interesting since it’s all based on Judaism, Christianity, Paganism, and Islam from a time period I’m not at all familiar with, making it all fresh and new for me. This is sort of a lower historical fantasy, but there is a bit of unexplained time travel for one of the characters, and there’s a sorcerer named Khalil. 

I think the prose itself was a highlight of the book for me. I found this to be very readable, clean, and breezy to get through despite the fact it was very foreign to me – that’s not easy to do. I found the descriptions crisp enough that I could form pictures in my head which is something I often struggle with, so that was a plus as well.

The pace moved fairly slow for me until around 18 percent when things start to pick up as two of the POVs collide, and the plot starts to take on some clarity. It had been a lot of character and world building up until that point, there were obstacles the characters had to overcome but there wasn’t a bigger plotline laid out yet.  

I found that I liked Ayla the most, and Saint-Gilles the least. Ayla was relatable from the very start and I found her opening chapter to be intriguing and pulled me in. Saint-Gilles is just so rigid, his character is built almost entirely on honor and his religion which makes for a little bit of stiff reading. 

This felt like a book that had a lot of research hours put behind it. It’s based in 1097AD in the Middle East which is the time of the First Crusades. Since I am not at all familiar with this time period or even with the region itself, so I can’t speak as to how closely it followed real life events. I do know that in the book Emperor Alexius was center stage to a lot of the drama, and indeed in 1097AD Emperor Alexios ruled over real life Rome.

I would recommend this to people who like historical fiction with a dollop of fantasy!


  • Plot: 12.5/15 
  • Characters: 11/15 
  • World Building: 13/15 
  • Writing: 12/15 
  • Pacing: 10/15
  • Originality: 12/15 
  • Personal Enjoyment: 6/10 

Esme’s Score: 76.5 or 7.65/10

FINAL SPFBO SCORE: 7.3/10 – rounded to 7.5/10 for SPFBO