One of the very first things that amazed me was that Jack Whyte is from Canada. I found this interesting, particularly given the fact that he’s writing about France and Israel from nearly a millennium ago, then I learned that he was born and educated in Europe, and now I understand. I can’t even imagine how much time he must have spent researching this trilogy, but I think it would have been easy for him because the Knights Templar and that time frame are apparently a passion of his.
Knights of the Black and White is the first in a trilogy of tales about the Templar knights. This first tale focuses on Hugh de Payens and Stephen St. Clair, both who are inducted into a secret society called the Order of Rebirth in Sion. This society professes to know the truth about Jesus and now St. Paul distorted reality in the founding of the Christian church. A short while into the novel the Pope declares a holy war on the Muslims and Hugh, along with his two good friends and a host of other knights and soldiers make the long journey to Jerusalem. Hugh is disturbed by the acts performed by many of the soldiers, and therefore he cuts himself off from many of them for a span of two decades.
After twenty years of occupation in Jerusalem the city and surrounding areas are still not safe from the ‘infidels’ as they are called. This, along with a command from the Order of Rebirth in France to seek the treasure they beleive to be in JErusalem, Hugh de Payens founds a small sect of fighting monks who patrol the roads, making passage safe for pilgrims. This arrangement allows them to take over a set of unused stables and thus dig in secret, hoping to find their treasure.
It takes nearly a decade of digging, but they eventually stumble onto an entrance to a large room with many large clay jars and an altar. Through the altar they discover a secret passage that eventually leads them to find the ark of the covenant. They now have the power to change religion forever, but Hugh de Payens does not believe that the Church wil allow this information to become public.
My thoughts on this book:
First of all, it was extremely long – 753 pages. While it was an interesting story it sometiems seemed to drag, particularly in the beginning. I have to wonder if all the detail about their initiation ceremony into the Order of Rebirth was really necessary. Is there really that much detail on the rituals of a super secret society? I suppose this is where the fiction could come in though.
It is extremely important to the story, but I also sometiems found I was getting lost in all the religious talk. That is a failing of mine, however, not Mr. Whyte’s as my knowledge of religion is scant at best. On the religious note as well, it is hard to imagine the church having so much power. People today are religious, I do not doubt that, but those who are as devoutly religious as one least religious in de Payens time are few and far between. To hear about such scandals as with Bishop Odo and Princess Alice would have been largely unheard of.
One of the things that really irks me, and it is not just with this novel, but many historical fictions, is the way women are potrayed. Not all of them are shoved to the side as lesser beings. People like Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl, Queen Morfia and Princess Alice (both from this novel) are shown to have power and strength of their own. This is wonderful because there were undoubtedly strong women even when they had no powers to speak of. What really gets to me though is when one of them comes out and says, “I am a mere woman,” or something o the like. I cannot see someone actually saying that. To me, it seems a device for present day readers to remember that women had no power back then. I think that readers are smarter than that.
I will most certainly be reading book 2 of this trilogy.