One of the highlights of my year is the new Angus Donald novel, but this new book was slightly more anticipated than usual. You see, while I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all Angus’ books, I have noted the opposite of what they used to say about the Star Trek Movies (the even movies were the better ones). While I thoroughly enjoyed Holy Warrior (2) and Warlord (4), it was Outlaw (1) and King’s Man (3) that were outstanding in the series and eclipsed many other great reads of the time. So would book 5 continue this trend?
Simply, yes. Grail Knight may well be the best of the five and, even if not, it is on a par with the outstanding King’s Man, which is about the highest praise to give anyway.
Why is it a win? Well to start with, Angus has consistently managed to take Robin Hood (one of the most cliched subjects in history) and write a series about him that repeatedly side-steps cliche and delivers fresh, engaging and fascinating tales that do not irritate in the way Robin Hood could so easily do (ahem, Ridley Scott!) That in itself is a feat. But this tale is also about the Holy Grail. No it’s not a spoiler. Even if you didn’t realise from the title (giveaway #1) the lead-up in book 4 made it obvious this was going to happen. And if there’s anything that delivers more cliche and general awfulness than Robin Hood as a subject, it is the Holy Grail. And yet in this book, Angus has managed to avoid cliche and awfulness very neatly. The result is that, in a book about two things that are a minefield of cheese, Angus has created a gem of a tale that delivers shock, joy, fascination and sheer power. Kudos.
The tale delves deeper into the awful and mysterious ‘Master’ and his secretive order within the Knights Templar. It portrays the Templars in an unusual light, making them bad guys, dubious and selfish, harsh and outside the law, while not accusing them of heresy and demon worship as seems to be the norm for writers these days. (Minor spoiler coming here:) The quest for the grail leads Alan from his home in Westbury, alongside his liege lord Robin, leaving a ruined home and a dying love to search for the one thing that can save her. It leads us to Cathar country in south west France and explores that beautiful world, centring on somewhere I have always wanted to visit. The plot never falters, hurtling along at pace, ever goading the reader to ‘just a few more pages’. The plot is neatly constructed and leaves no loose ends, in fact tying up a number of frayed threads from the previous books!
Probably the biggest win for this book with me, though, is the cast. As well as the essentials, a number of old friends return, including one of my faves – Sir Nicholas de Scras. And… Nur. You see I had become rather irritated with the witch woman in the previous books and had even gone as far as to grumble about her on Twitter at Angus! And yet she returns in Grail Knight to take her place in the cast and does so in such a well-crafted way that I thoroughly enjoyed it and found that I was appreciating her part as much as any other.
The book is happy and sad, full of subterfuge and open action, tense and calming, magical and spiritual and practical. It has everything you might expect from one of Angus’ books, but in spades.
Be prepared to put aside all your other hobbies and much sleep (I read 80 pages in the middle of the night yesterday) and enjoy a book every bit as good as King’s Man. Fans will not be disappointed and, if you haven’t read Angus’ other books, I would recommend them as always, but now with 25% more voracity!
Oh and the ending? Masterful. Simply masterful.
I sent the author a message when I had almost finished it, calling Grail Knight a Tour De Force and that is what it is. This stunning piece of Historical Fiction is out in hardback today and you can go get it here.