Sunday, May 11, 2008

Templar Trilogy - Knights of the Black and White Review

Just over two years ago, I was introduced to the A Dream of Eagles novel series, and to date I have yet to be so consumed by such a gripping, and exceptionally written tale. The humanity, stripped of all the fantasy, that author Jack Whyte brought to his rendition of the Arthurian legend is nothing short of astounding.

Now, Jack Whyte has turned his attention to another period in history, those of the Crusades, particular the history and life of the Knights Templar. The first book of the Templar Trilogy was recently released to paperback, and Knights of the Black and White is no less gripping than A Dream of Eagles.

Unlike A Dream of Eagles, which centred around the decline of the Roman Empire around 400 AD, a time period I'm familiar with, I have very little real knowledge surrounding the Crusades, the history and the politics. This is both liberating and a hindrance when reading a piece of historical fiction because it allows me to loose myself further in the moment, but it also prevents me from knowing what aspects are invented or altered.

Knights of the Black and White mainly follows the life of Hugh de Payens, a Frankish night in Christendom who is inducted into a secret order that is opposed to the corruption of Christianity, and it's grip on the poor. When the Pope declares war against the Muslims and sends a host of knights to reclaim the Holy Land, the Order sends Hugh and some of his closest allies to assist so that they may gain access to Jerusalem, and hopefully locate ancient records and documents that would confirm the Order's belief and present proof of Christianity's false roots and corruption.

Appalled by the savagery and violence of his Christian allies, and their mantra of "God wills it!" to justify slaughter, rape, and theft, Hugh takes a different path and founds the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ, a unique group of warrior monks with two purposes: The first and public aim is to protect and safe guard the roads to Jerusalem, keeping the way safe for the legions of pilgrims who come in search of salvation, and the second clandestine purpose is to search for the treasure within Jerusalem that Hugh's secret Order has charged him with locating.

Like A Dream of Eagles, the strength of Knights of the Black and White comes in the humanity of its characters, in their flaws, their dreams, and their criticism of that which may be wrong. Similar to Kingdom of Heaven, Knights of the Black and White clearly shows the corruption of the Church and its champions that was rampant at this time, and shows the stark contrast between the honour and dignity held sacred by their Muslim enemies.

Not only is the novel filled with morality, and wonderful battles, but it is also rife with politics and manipulations, lust, greed, and sex. Though set around 1088, the overall themes are ones that are still quite relevant today, and something that any average reader should easily be able to pick up on and empathize with.

Knights of the Black and White once again establishes Jack Whyte as a master of the art form, a true author of historical fiction with all the flare and fact to write such an epic tale that keeps you wanting to read from chapter to chapter. If you hold any interest in the Crusades, knights, or the Church itself, I would urge you to pick up a copy of Knights of the Black and White, and set aside some time to get lost in the glory of history. God wills it.

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