A young man caught up in the Spanish conquest of Muslim Mallorca during the thirteenth century uncovers secrets of his past in Peter Kerr’s Song of the Eight Winds. Pedro Blànes is the helmsman of a ship carrying the ambitious king of Aragon, Juame. The king intends to capture the island from its Moorish ruler. Pedrito or Little Pedro has less lofty ambitions. All he wants to do is return to his family’s farm on Mallorca. He has been absent for five years, forced into a harsh existence as a galley slave chained to the oars. The king’s venture offers him a chance to reunite with his family and ensure their safety. Juame relies on him for his knowledge of the island. Pedrito remains mindful of the differences between them and keeps a level head as he guides the king to his destiny.
Pedrito reaches his family’s farm and discovers the truth of their fate. While he is hopeful the conquest will allow him to keep his hands bloodless, he cannot help but suffer the consequences. In the aftermath of brutal battles, he witnesses the savagery on both sides. At the king’s command, he enters the city and meets the maimed Farah who has ties to his past and a beautiful young woman of the Moorish court, Saleema. As the trio come to know more about each other, emerging knowledge tests Pedrito’s commitment to the king’s cause.
History comes to life through Kerr’s skill as a storyteller. I enjoyed the author’s excellent ability to pace the storyline the most. He revels in building up the tension, whether it is in the protagonist’s growing awareness of his heritage or the anxiety on the eve of every clash or the ensuing siege. Farah is an especially sympathetic character, but I wish the author could have developed her relationship with Pedrito further. Altogether, Song of the Eight Winds is a satisfying read.