It’s been a while since I read the previous one in this series, Standard of Honour. I did actually enjoy the first two, even if I do remember thinking that the jump between one and two was a bit much and Standard of Honour seemed to lose a lot of the momentum built up in Knights of the Black and White. Having said all that, I couldn’t really remember what happened in the second volume, I’ll admit, but it didn’t seem to matter. And I’d forgotten what happened at the start of this one by the time I’d finished, so no great loss.
Yes, there’s once again way too much talking and discussion and general dialogue and way too little of…well, pretty much anything else. Sure, it starts well, with a bang of a start in the first few pages, but after that, very little. Really, you might as well wade through the Templars Wikipedia page, if all this is going to be about is their final days and dissolution. The lack of anything other than flannel, is surprising though, as the book covers a reasonably tumultuous event, namely the French King’s destruction of the Templars. The very first Friday the 13th. October 1307.
Sir William St. Clair and the other Templar-folk who get forewarned of their impending doom, are (unfortunately for those action-lovers amongst us and typically for this book) not around when this happens. Having received a tip-off to set sail a few hours before, they watch the event from out at sea off the coast of La Rochelle. Even later in the story, the now disbanded Templars turning up late for one last ride to save the day by chasing off the English at Bannockburn, is related as a chat, after the event, between Sinclair, Robert the Bruce and various aristocratic friends. I mean, look at Robert Low‘s trilogy covering the self-same period on Robert The Bruce. I haven’t actually read them (yet), but you’re not telling me, looking at those covers, they’re sitting around in front of roaring log fires talking? As they do here. So all we get are hours of fat-chewing before and after. Generally, all the way through, all we get is talk, talk, change of scenery, talk, talk, change of people, talk, sail to Scotland, discussion, talk. Etc. Reminded me of later Wheel of Time nonsense. That’s not good, by the way.
Then some of their ‘conversations’, many actually, are not between characters, as characters might have had the same conversations if we weren’t reading what they were saying in real life. What they say, is clearly aimed at us. Imparting knowledge that surely the character knows, and the character doing the telling, knows they know. But we – the reader don’t know. So it’s really us that is being told. And that makes it over long, forced and stilted. Like reading a bad Wikipedia entry.
So what else could it be? A romance? A very long-winded one, if it is. You know from the off, in the first few pages where the two meet, how it will end. That is telegraphed in the usual way – they can’t abide each other. So of course they’re bound to fall in love. The older, stuck in his ways, monastic (and more importantly, life-long celibate) Templar fighting monk and the headstrong, newly widowed, baroness with a whole load of boxes crammed full with gold coins, Scottish noble-lady. Their ‘romance’, which isn’t actually underway until the final hundred pages, develops as the Templars society crumbles. That’s what this must be about. Romance and new beginnings. Yes, the lead up to and the realisation that it must be love from Will Sinclair’s side, is nicely and deftly done. Though, I remember feeling that the moment of admission on his side, the end of anticipation on her side and the joy on both sides, could have been more forcefully written. But you can’t have anything, when Templars need to sort out stocks and supplies and … At least we do get a marriage. Well, that’ll please those who think Historical Fiction is only written about luv between people wearing funny, old-fashioned clothes. Hello Amazon and Goodreads!
To again be more fair than this deserves, when you strip out much of the endless detail about how to run a Templar community on a previously almost deserted Scottish island, then it is pretty well-written. The descriptions of Scotland are lovely and clearly written by a Scot living abroad. But that’s too little to affect the overall meandering. And with that stripped out, you’d have very little else.
Could have been a lot better. Should have been a whole lot shorter.