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Hills of Zion book and study guide Review by Sarah Roth

Hills of Zion Books
Andrew Lambdin

In Hills of Zion by Andrew Lambdin, the reader is transported back to Medieval Europe in the thirteenth century to experience the confusion and corruption within the church, the realities of feudal society, and the challenges and persecution that faced those who did not follow the Catholic Church of that time. The book sells for $15.99, and a study guide is available for $3.99. The author states in the preface, "The purpose of this writing is to help our youth (and all Christians) reconnect with their spiritual heritage."

The 24-chapter, 302-page work of historical fiction begins with two brothers at the start of a journey. But, before their journey really begins, their great-grandfather tells them a story to warn them about life outside of their forest. Most of the book is this story. In it, the boys (and reader) are introduced to an Irish monk, several cardinals in the Catholic Church, two brothers, a young maiden, a Waldensian minister, knights, and other supporting characters. The time is the early thirteenth century, including the first months of the Albigensian Crusade in France- a particularly bloody period.

Before using this book in our homeschool, I read the book and the study guide myself. Initially, I read the whole book without the aid of the study guide. I found the characters intriguing and the story fascinating. However, in the first few chapters, the characters are introduced separately without showing how they connect, which does add confusion and disconnect to the story in the beginning. The author addresses this in the book's preface, giving his reasons for writing in this format. It took me several chapters before I was genuinely drawn into the story. But midway through the book, the characters begin coming together; the reader sees how their stories intertwine leading up to the climax.

After my first read of the novel, I read the study guide. I quickly saw how the extra information in the study guide aids the reader, and I decided to read them side-by-side when using it in our homeschool. Having experience with the novel and the guide before reading it aloud with my children helped me guide them through the beginning of the book. Younger students may struggle to follow the storyline in the book's first few chapters if the book is used as a read-aloud. Reading the study guide alongside the book helped us with this.

There is violence in the book, but it is neither excessive nor unrealistic for the time. This was a time when people were persecuted for their faith, especially when their practices and beliefs did not coincide with those promoted by the Catholic Church of the day. The violence is appropriate for high school and mature middle-grade students reading independently. It is comparable to some violent scenes in the Bible. Younger children and those sensitive to violence may benefit from reading this book with a parent or as a family. They could also wait until they are older.

The study guide adds to the book's reading, and I would highly recommend using it chapter-by-chapter with the book. When I read the book with my children, we read the corresponding section in the study guide after each chapter. Doing this helped us understand the historical time and the author's methods and purpose for drafting the book. The guide provides essential historical insight, church history, and literary insight. It also includes study questions for each chapter. We used these in our discussions, but they could be used for written assignments. Answers to the questions are found at the back of the study guide. The literary questions are appropriate for a high school level literature study, making this a product that can be included in the study of both history and literature. More historical and character information is available on the book's website: On the website, the author answers questions related to the book, the historical period, persecution of the church, and the Christian youth of today.

Overall, I found the book and study guide to provide an instructive and intriguing look into Europe in the early 1200s. Experiencing the persecution and spiritual confusion common to this time through the eyes of several different characters added depth to the story. Even relatively minor characters are written with such detail that they add to the feeling of uncertainty and confusion of the time. The violent scenes are both terrifying and beautifully written. Although the book would benefit from one more proofread to correct a few misplaced or absent quotation marks, these errors do not take away from the work. The descriptions throughout the book are beautiful; I did feel a few were a bit excessive, although I appreciate how the author paints the pictures for the reader. I particularly appreciated how he describes the surroundings and the character's feelings.

The end of Hills of Zion leaves the reader with at least one question. However, it also left me with a desire to hear more of the story. So, will there be a sequel? I emailed the author using the contact information from his website, and he responded, "Yes, the sequel, Fields of Zion, should be in print by the end of summer."

This work of historical fiction, along with the study guide, would be a valuable addition to a high school study of church history, world history, or literature. Those who prefer learning history from living books will find this book particularly valuable.

-Product review by Sarah Roth, The Old Schoolhouse® July 2022.