The Emperor Strikes Back

Frederick II's War against his Vassals

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
433 Pages
Reviewed on 09/29/2019
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Author Biography

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. After a number of years in the private sector, she was commissioned in the U.S. Foreign Service and served as an American diplomat in Africa and Europe. She retired in December 2018.

Helena has published numerous works of fiction and non-fiction, most recently focusing on the history of the crusader states. Her Jerusalem Trilogy, a series of biographical novels set in the Holy Land in the late 12th century, won twelve literary accolades. Her current fiction project, exploring the struggle between the Holy Roman Emperors and the barons of Outremer, got off to a good start by taking Gold (1st) in the Readers’ Favorites Book Awards 2019 and Silver (2nd) in the Feathered Quill Book Awards 2019, as well as being a finalist for the Chaucer Award and earning a B.R.A.G. medallion. In addition, she is researching for a non-fiction book, "Beyond the Seas: The Story of the Crusader States," which will bring together recent scholarship on the Latin East into a single volume aimed at non-academics.

For more on the crusader kingdoms and Balian d’Ibelin visit: or follow her blog at:

    Book Review

Reviewed by Ruffina Oserio for Readers' Favorite

The Emperor Strikes Back: Frederick II's War Against His Vassals by Helena P. Schrader is a historical novel with a strong setting and compelling characters. Jerusalem is under the control of the Christians, thanks to the successful campaign of Emperor Frederick II. However, the barons are not happy with the Emperor's dictatorial approach to power and the common man holds him in great contempt. The Sultan is resolved to drive the Christians away after the ten-year-truce. The Emperor is determined to destroy the family that has inspired a sense of independence in the people: the Ibelins. But the Ibelins are a resilient family that has learned to survive the rough times and to build strong allies. Can they withstand the wrath of the Emperor with the full support he has?

Bloodshed, political machinations, conspiracy, and subterfuge are some of the characteristic features that accompany the action to drive the plot forward in The Emperor Strikes Back: Frederick II's War Against His Vassals. Helena P. Schrader doesn't just craft a beautiful story but also reinvents a historical period that quickly feels real to her readers. The exquisite prose combines with strong plot points to create a story that is page-turning. The political and historical as well as religious elements of the setting are written with a unique approach to detail and a rare sense of imagery. It is fast-paced and delightful, a real treat for fans of historical novels. I enjoyed the strong writing, the great pacing, the in-depth character treatment, and the overall entertainment value of the narrative.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford

The thrust of politics and greed for world domination certainly hasn’t changed over the centuries. Where ordinary people, and to a great degree women, were mere pawns on the chessboard of power, rulers wielded their might across massive empires. The ongoing quest to free the Holy Land of non-Christian occupiers became religious crusades for many world leaders, including the all-powerful Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II Hohenstaufen. But, in the decades following the Third Crusade, the greedy, tyrannical Holy Roman Emperor found himself pitted against his own vassals and, in particular, one ruling family that embodied the soul of Outremer: the Ibelins. War breaks out amongst those who fought to free the Holy Land.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader, historian and writer of historical nonfiction and fiction, has recreated these wars in another of her historical fiction novels, The Emperor Strikes Back: Frederick II’s War Against His Vassals. The author gives great attention to detail and historical facts. Like other great historical fiction authors like Sharon Kay Penman, this historian/writer, has created a tableau that invites readers into the world of Middle Eastern politics in the 13th century. Much like Penman, this work is a marvelous addition to any historian’s library and will certainly entice historical fiction lovers to read and savor what it was really like in this time and place in history.

The author provides multiple references to help the reader follow the historical details: family trees to plot connections, a list of characters and their importance to the narrative, maps of the area, layout plans of castles, and at the end is a glossary of terms (many of which twenty-first-century readers may not be familiar with), historical notes (what happened when) and of course sources. Readers are not only transported into the story through the author's descriptive narratives and insightful use of dialogue, but they feel ensconced in the era, the plot and the innuendoes that cause interaction between the characters. This is a riveting tale of historical relevance, an intense read.

K.C. Finn

The Emperor Strikes Back is a work of historical fiction set in the time of Emperor Frederick II, and was penned by author Helena P. Schrader. Subtitled ‘Frederick II’s War Against His Vassals’, the novel fictionalizes the true events surrounding the Emperor after the success of a Holy Crusade which has restored Christian control of Jerusalem. This is by no means an end to the matter, as the Sultan and his supporters continue their hatred of the Emperor and vow to take back their city. Fighting on all sides and seeking support wherever he can, this is a tale of politics, diplomacy and the powerful will of destruction.

Knowing next to nothing about the Crusades, I was a little intimidated by the depth of knowledge in author Helena P. Schrader’s work. The central action starts with much intrigue and detail, and it takes a little while to get fully into Schrader’s story and understand the many facets of the plot. But like any good drama, these facets soon weave together to create a complex tapestry of military and political implications on levels of the common people and the powerful, influential figures of nobility and religion. I quickly became immersed in the detailed and atmospheric writing, the commitment to bringing emotive psychology to the characters, even those who would do terrible things, and the realism of the fate of the people caught up in the Holy War. Overall, The Emperor Strikes Back is certain to please historical fiction fans everywhere for its accuracy and talented writing style.