Title: Alina: A Song for the Telling
Author: Malve von Hassell
Genre: Historical fiction / Coming-of-age
Alina: A Song for the Telling by Malve von Hassell follows the journey of fourteen-year-old Alina and her brother, Milos, as they travel with a group of knights from twelfth-century Provence to Jerusalem. Alina is gifted with playing the lute and composing and singing music, and she uses her gifts while in court in Jerusalem to find her way. Against her will, she is pulled into the corruption, mystery, and inside happenings that occur among the elite during the Crusades. Meanwhile, Alina worries for her older brother and his choices while trying to make her path through hardship and confusion.
Alina: A Song for the Telling is a coming-of-age story about a young girl finding herself in a torn world. The tale opens with the gripping, sad backdrop that Alina and Milo are alone in the world, having recently lost their mother and sister to a sickness and their father to suicide. Flashbacks with the family bring alive the voices of those no longer with the siblings, and the reader feels Alina’s heartache with her. Coming from a loving family who encouraged her music, Alina now wonders what to do with her life. Her questions of faith rest heavy on her soul as she searches for meaning. That the story is told from a first-person point of view lends well to giving Alina even more voice. Interestingly, although Alina is trying to find her voice in a world without her parents, her voice is strong throughout the narrative, bringing levity and humor alongside an inquisitive mind and a healing heart.
Von Hassell’s setting is well-researched. Many historical figures play important roles in her book, including Count Stephen of Sancerre, one of the knights who travels with Alina and Milo to Jerusalem. The count is considered one of the possible suitors for the princess Sybilla, who Alina serves as a lady-in-waiting. The author provides additional commentary on this figure who little is known about, but she brings him, and others, to life by expanding on their role in the Crusades as they spy and scope out the surrounding areas.
The author keeps true to the state of the world during the twelfth century and the political and religious powers that were at war for control of the Holy Land. Displaying the religious center during such unrest through a young girl’s perspective is unique and fresh, which also gives the target audience of young adults a relatable protagonist, despite the different time and place. Alina lives a very disparate life from a twenty-first century young woman, but her journey to find who she is stands timeless.
Among the religious and political unrest in Jerusalem were Jews who were unfairly mistrusted by Christians at that time. The author’s choice to have Alina befriend a kind Jewish family shows that love and friendship can cross human-made boundaries.
The start of the story is a little slow at times before Alina and Milos begin their journey, mostly the sections with their uncle and aunt who move in to take over the manor. Part of this feeling, however, may be due to the uncle and aunt being unpleasant characters who Alina and the reader wish to depart from.
Alina: A Song for the Telling spins a timeless coming-of-age story. The protagonist is a strong, female lead who is a good role model for young girls, and she has a unique voice that crosses space and time. Malve Von Hassell’s novel will resonate deeply with young adults who are also trying to find their way in the world.
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