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Posts Tagged ‘templar

The Holy Lance

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I recently had the opportunity to read an advance copy of Andrew Latham’s ‘The Holy Lance’. Initially I was hesitant, I have to admit. I am reasonably familiar with the Knights Templar in both popular myth and actual historical record, and am, frankly, a little sick of the endless connections made between the Templars and various supernatural or secret cult activities. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to read the book and discover that, although it revolves entirely around a group of Templars and the eponymous artefact, there is not a hint here of the ‘secret society and weirdo damned Templars’. This is a tale of knights, duty and the battling of inner demons, not the Rosicrucians or the Masons in armour trying to hide the body of Christ or some such.

Once I realised that it was a work of historical fiction about the real Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon and had not fallen into that most common and woeful trap of ‘Dan-Browniness’, I was properly enticed, and dived right in. In fact, despite the artefact at the heart of the tale being such a mythical, sacred item, the book remains grounded and realistic. After all, just because something is mythical has never stopped real people hunting it and believing in it (witness not only the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant, but also the Nazi obsession with relics and occult objects.)

Inside, what I came across was a solid tale based during the Third Crusade, in the aftermath of the dreadful battle at the Horns of Hattin. Rather than being some ‘Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail’ knock-off, the story does not wallow in the supernatural, raising the spear of Longinus – the Holy Lance supposed to have pierced Christ on the cross – to be some kind of earth-changing relic. It is simply a religious relic, albeit an important one, sought by a number of the power groups active during the crusade, for its morale-boosting effects and the belief that it aids an army in victory. Richard Coeur de Lion sends the protagonist on a mission to recover the spear and aid his cause in the Holy Land. Completely as an aside from the main plot and characters, incidentally, I also have to point out that I love this unusually realistic portrait of the great Richard I, as opposed to the usual ‘bearded action hero’.

I will not delve too deeply into the nuances and details of the plot, for that way lie spoilers and disappointment. What I will say is that this is a hunt, and something of a race, to acquire the Lance, run by more than two groups. The political situation is nicely put, with conflicting forces not always on opposing sides of the war. Indeed, the oiliest, wickedest bad guys in this nominally belong to the same side as the Templar protagonist. Characters struggling to regain prominence or to maintain it in a world where power and position are most important are pitted against unwilling hunters who are bound by duty and oath to service. Christians both pious and base struggle against each other, as well as against the agents of Saladin (also, incidentally, a refreshing and unusual characterisation) in an effort to bring the lance back to their faction. Don’t forget that in this awful crusade, the English and the French probably hated one another more than either of them hated the Saracen!

Strangely, for me, the most important and most powerful thread (themes?, ideas?) in the novel, which so outweighs the main plot concerning the lance and the machinations of the powerful, is the personal journey of the protagonist. A former knight who joined the Templars to seek a way out of a world of blood, violence and base impulses, Michael Fitz Alan faces a daily battle against his inner demons and, while he is a strong, often irritatingly unyielding and deadly character, this dark, uncertain side of him is what makes him real to the reader. He is a character that sits well in his place in the plot and will drive the story on beyond this volume with ease.

The upshot is that the Holy Lance is an action packed, tense race to recover a holy relic, pitted against the hordes of the Saracen, power-hungry Christian nobles, his own masters of dubious ethics and various side-groups. Throughout the story, the character of Fitz Alan unfolds, and thus is born the series of the English Templars. Roll on book 2, I say.

Written by SJAT

March 26, 2015 at 10:27 am

Gisborne III: Book of Kings

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Those of you who follow my blog and reviews, or even just listen to me blather on Facebook or Twitter will already know of Prue Batten and how I regularly vaunt her writing. If you are new to these or need a reminder, I would say to you simply that of all the writers I know (and not just the independent ones) Prue’s writing style is the most mesmeric, flawless, silken and almost poetic. She could write up the minutes of a meeting of a county council’s session and make it sound like a ballad. So you already have an inkling of where I’m going with this review.

Prue became noted early on as a writer of fantasy – a rather unusual and intriguing fantasy world of her own creation that revolved around the mythical Faerie. These books were rather darker than many would assume when they hear the word Faerie, for Prue has given us more of a view into the kind of Fey that still dominate the folklore of the Celtic world. The sort of Faeries that steal children, play with mortals’ minds and trick and deceive. Such were the chronicles of Eirie. Needless to say, I love them and would recommend them to a fantasy reader who’s looking for something a little different, with depth and insight.

Then, in a move that came as a surprise to me, a few years ago, Prue turned her hand to the genre of Historical Fiction. Thus was born Gisborne: Book of Pawns. In very brief summary, this was the tale of a young noblewoman from Aquitaine in the 12th century, a ward of Richard Coeur de Lion, who falls in with Guy of Gisborne (yes, him. You’ve heard of him.) Essentially, a medieval tale with a strong lean towards the Romantic genre, this was a tale of betrayals and survival and with Prue’s mastery of the written word was an instant hit with me, despite not shooting for my area of interest. It was enough that I leapt at the second book immediately, when Gisborne: Book of Knights was released. Better for me, the second volume in the series took everything I liked about the first, but threw in a healthy tale of voyages, swordfights, crusades and so on. Really hit the spot, that did. If you want to see more, click here for my review of the first two books some time back.

And recently I sat watching Prue’s comments on Facebook, telling of how she was wrapping up with the third book. And I had the opportunity (lucky me) to get my hands on an advance reading copy. Well, Gisborne III is now out on Kindle, so feel free to rush off and buy your copy if you already know you want it (Amazon link here).

What can I say? Gisborne III is everything I had expected. Once more, it takes a subtle half-step away from the romantic content and a heavy ten paces into the world of troubled 12th century Europe. For those of you who have read the first two books, I will give one thing away here: Ysabel has grown up. I expect that, like me, you have torn you hair out over two books with Ysabel’s foolish tendency to mess everything up because she cannot hold herself back and leaps foolhardy into trouble at every step. Not so in this book. You will still recognise the same headstrong girl and she still has her moments of ‘ARGH!’ lack of foresight, but they are much fewer and on many occasions she now actually thinks before she acts. Additionally, old friends return (Peter, Tobias and so many more) and new interesting characters appear – one of whom made the book for me to some extent. When you read it, you’ll soon work out who that one is, I’m sure.

The plot? Well you know I don’t like to risk spoilers, but I will give you hints. Now in Venice, Ysabel has only a brief moment with Guy before he disappears off into the wide world to help his King, who has returned from the Holy land to find much of Europe set against him and is attempting to journey home through hostile lands. During his absence, Ysabel begins to suspect that she and her household are being watched by a malevolent presence. Her fears prove to be well-founded when her young son is kidnapped following a thoroughly engrossing and heart-in mouth scene. Thus begins a quest to find and rescue young William and uncover the truth behind a sinister new antagonist who seems to have at his command the small group of renegade fallen templars from the previous volume.

This is the last of the Gisborne trilogy, so expect a crescendo and a wrap up, though it appears a series of standalone spin offs, based on the supporting characters, is in the offing, so there is that to look forward to.

As always with Prue’s work, Gisborne III is a joy to read, smooth and eloquent, with a well-constructed plot weaved around well-imagined characters and, despite the grace and charm of her writing, no punches are pulled with the scenes of violence and destruction that are a necessity of a thriller, especially one set in such an era.

Bravo Prue, once again.

Go out and buy it folks.

Written by SJAT

June 30, 2014 at 11:14 am

Grail Knight

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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.

Written by SJAT

August 1, 2013 at 2:54 pm