Standard of Honor – Jack Whyte

This book has almost solidified my belief that I don’t enjoy reading historical fiction.  I haven’t read that many of them, to be honest, so perhaps what I don’t enjoy is the few writers that I have read, but I tend to find all the details about daily life boring.  Actually, let me rephrase that, after the two hundredth time that the same information is provided it gets a little redundant.  Yes, we know that the Christian armies, or Christians themselves, don’t bathe regularly, we don’t need you to keep repeating it  And on that token, I bet it was after the Plague that the idea of cleanliness being next to godliness came about.


I was surprised to learn that Standard of Honor continues ninety years after Knights of the Black and White, therefore none of the key players were in this novel.  Instead we are in the midst of planning for another crusade to recapture the Holy Lands from the Muslims  We first enter the story with the utter annihilation of the Christian army at the hands of the Sultan.  Thereafter we are taken back to Christendom to the home of Henry St. Clair, relative of Alexander Sinclair, who was captured in the first part of the book.  The future king of England, Richard the Lionheart, has arrived at the door of one of his vassals and demands that he return to employment as Master-at-Arms for Richard in their war on the Holy Lands.  He assists in sorting out a legal matter for Henry’s son, Andre and thereafter the two are in debt and travel with Richard to Outremer.


Andre St. Clair, member of the secret Order of Rebirth in Sion (now just called the Order of Sion) is instructed to become a Templar knight by his liege lord, Richard, and sets about doing just that.  As they are traveling he is pulled away by his brotherhood and instructed that he needs to determine if his cousin, Sir Alexander Sinclair is dead or alive, since he was working with the Muslims in Outremer.


During the journey Andre becomes a favorite of Richard’s sister, Joanna and his new bride, Beregaria, and is offered the opportunity to bed both of them.  He comes to learn that Richard has set up this whole arrangement so that Andre would potentially father a child that Richard could then call his own. At the very least he is intrigued by the offer but does not proceed with it due to the timely discovery of his cousin alive and well in Outremer.


The remainder o the novel deals with the battles to reclaim the ports of Acre and the city of Arsuf.  During that battle his respected cousin is killed, by one of his own Templars.  Andre is sickened by this and turns away from the Templar knights.



My thoughts on this book:


LIke I said at the beginning of this post, I found that the book dragged on far too much.  The mentions of bathing rituals were, I think, for present day reader  I can certainly imagine someone who has picked up the bathing habits of the Muslims to notice the stench of their fellow Christians, but I cannot imagine that they would think on a daily basis of how much they and their comrades did, or did not, bathe.  I also cannot imagine that there would be women saying, or implying, that they were lesser beings  Again, while I am sure there were exceptions (and then perhaps these women being talked about are those exceptions), most women would not think of their stations in life.  It would just be something that they accepted.


Only after completing the book have I come to appreciate its structure.  It was quite aggravating to spend nearly one hundred pages reading about Sir Alexander Sinclair only to have the next part of the book deal with Sir Henry St. Clair, and then to have the tables turn yet again to focus on Sir Andre St. Clair.  While I might still take issue with the portion of the book dedicated to Sir Henry, I can understand now why all of this was necessary.  Much of this novel dealt with honor, both in and out of battle.  Therefore, it was necessary to see Sir Alec Sinclair’s capture and how he was treated with honor.  It was important to see that the St. Clair father and son honored their obligations to their liege lord, Richard the Lionheart.  Hearing of how Andre’s lover was treated, and how the men he witnessed tried to frame him showed the antithesis of this honor.  And once they are in Outremer I can understand where the honor lies, in serving in the battle, and serving his bretheren in the Order of Sion.


One of the biggest problems I had was the long drawn out talk of the Jews.  It seemed out of place until the very end, but it did serve its purpose.  While the talk about how the brothers of the Order of Sion were Jewish, and thus their family was as well, it makes sense why Sir Henry would act how he did.  Even though Henry was not aware of his Jewish heritage the examples of his behaviour set him apart from Richard, and many other men.  It also makes his death more poignant for Andre and the reader, and certainly sets the stage for his later desertion of Ricahrd and the Templar knights.


While Whyte was able to pull all the plot points together in the end, like a responsible writer must, I still found this novel long an tedious.  I was hoping to hear more of the Order of Sion, not the long drawn out travel plans of Richard’s army and their return to Outremer.  I hope that the next book focuses more on that than the other historical points, although I suppose this is a largely factual tale and we don’t have that many actual facts about the Order of Sion.  Alas, I think I will have to stop reading historical fiction after I read Clothar the Frank.



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