Friday, September 19, 2008

Templar Trilogy - Standard of Honour Review

What is honour? That's one question amongst others that author Jack Whyte puts to us in the second book of his Templar Trilogy, Standard of Honour. Honestly, what is honour? Can you define it? Most people can't, not really, and as Whyte describes, they'll instead try to use synonyms, looking for words that we don't often hear anymore. Words like integrity and morality, for the problem with honour is that it's different for every single person; each of us aspires to high standards and ideals, or we don't.

In Standard of Honour, we begin some time after the end of Knights of the Black and White at the end of the Second Crusade in which the Saracens, led by Saladin, ultimately defeat the Christian army of Jerusalem and reclaim the Holy Land. The Knights Templar have grown into one of the most elite orders in the world, and they fanatically uphold the Christian faith, proudly and arrogantly taking the fight to the "infidel" at every opportunity.

During a key battle that would ultimately lead to the defeat of Christian Jerusalem, a Scots Templar Knight, Alexander Sinclair, kinsman of Stephen St. Clair, one of the original members of the Templar Knights, is taken captive by a Saracen captain and held for ransom. During his captivity, Sinclair learns that Saladin considers the Templar Knights to be the greatest threat to Islam, and that any discovered are to be killed immediately.

It was a pleasure to read about this particular battle as it coincides with Ridley Scott's recent historical epic, Kingdom of Heaven, which also dealt with the end of the Second Crusade. While many of the key characters from that film are mentioned in Standard of Honour, it's fascinating to read Whyte's take on them as he presents them with a greater look at historical accuracy.

Flash forward a few years, and Richard the Lionheart prepares his Christian armies for the Third Crusade: To free the Holy Land from Saracen rule. Within his army is Sinclair's younger cousin and knight, Andre St. Clair and his own father Henry St. Clair, an aged master-at-arms. Manipulated by Richard to enter this coming conflict, Andre will travel to war and witness the horrors of what faith has become.

Standard of Honour truly examines the politics of the time, the power of the Church and it's corruption within, and casts light upon the reasons many of these legendary historical figures chose to partake in these great conflicts. Whyte also educates us on the Islamic perspective of the same wars, and tries to show that, even though Christian and Muslim are of different faiths, there are many similarities between the two peoples.

And all throughout the novel, the question of honour is ever present. Rarely in the forefront, many actions and many motives are questioned by Sinclair and St. Clair, and they will ultimately be faced with asking themselves in what they believe; what does their honour hold.

Cleverly crafted drama woven amongst historical fact always sucks me in, and Standard of Honour is filled with camaraderie, conflict, and conviction. While not a traditional sequel to Knights of the Black and White since the same characters are not involved, Standard of Honour is a wonderful continuation of the same ideals that came before. The evolution of the Order of the Temple is clearly depicted throughout these pages as they've become much more, for better or worse, than the simple Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ. The Order now stretches throughout all of Christendom, and while they still cling to high ideals, the Templars are clearly more arrogant and hotheaded than their founder, Hugh de Paynes, would have condoned.

Whyte, as always, is a master story teller, and Standard of Honour is one of his best works to date. A lengthy and fascinating read, this novel's excellent portrayal of such a rich and significant part of history should not be missed.

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