Not quite as good as the blurb suggests with its references to Umberto Eco’s In The Name of the Rose and Booker Prize long listing, but 12th Century Sicily is a different setting from any other Crusader era historical novel I’ve read and allows for some new perspectives, ranging from the (not long before, Viking) Norman court of King Roger II to the descendants of the Muslims who’d established the Emirate of Sicily, Greek Byzantine settlers and the many peoples trading and traversing the Mediterranean between Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Thurstan Beauchamp is an Interesting lead character – an aspirant knight whose ambitions were thwarted when his father retired to a monastery, he has built up a clerical career within the Royal Diwan but finds himself unwittingly enmeshed in an evenly pitched battle with the Norman nobility, the expansionist Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church.
Plenty of politics; not much chivalry.
Wikipedia page: The Ruby In Her Navel – Barry Unsworth
Guardian Review: Romancing the stone – John Julius Norwich is transported back to 12th-century Norman Sicily by Barry Unsworth’s The Ruby in Her Navel (Saturday 14 October 2006)