Sunday 13 September 2015

REVIEW: The Holy Lance, by Andrew Latham

The Holy Lance (The English Templars Series Book 1)The Holy Lance by Andrew Latham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Holy Lance, by Andrew Latham, is a strong debut novel. It depicts the violent, tumultuous and oftentimes confusing world of the Third Crusade. Latham is an academic who clearly knows and loves this period of history. His research drips from the page as readily as the blood spills from the gaping wounds of the enemies of Christ who are summarily slain by the Templar protagonist, Michael Fitz Alan, and his cohort of warrior brothers.

It is a time of brutal conflict and the savage clash between religions and peoples. Latham does a good job of shedding some light on the different political factions, both within the camp of the Saracens and the Pilgrim Crusaders. The reader is left wondering if any of the leaders is truly honourable or wise, and it is not easy to decide who to side with amongst the kings and lords who are all just out for their own aggrandizement.

Michael Fitz Alan is a Templar, par excellence - devout and implacable in battle against those he sees as devils (anyone not Christian). It is interesting to see this portrayal of the inner workings of a Templar's motivations, but I have to say I found the character a little difficult to really like. Perhaps that was Latham's intention. In a similar way to the leaders on either side, all of the soldiers are driven by their own all-too-human desires. Fitz Alan seems to hide his cravings for blood-letting behind a veneer of religious devotion, but there is a clear debate going on within his mind about whether or not he meets the ideals of the warrior-monk order he has joined after a life as a secular knight. I'd have liked to have learnt a bit more about his violent past. It is alluded to regularly, but there are few details provided. Perhaps there will be more depth given to his backstory in future books.

The plot itself it pretty straightforward and the search for the holy relic of the title trundles along at a good pace. I felt that the ending could have been less open-ended, but the sequel is clearly set up and ready to pick up where this novel concludes.

I look forward to the next tale in the English Templars series. In the sequel I would love to see more of the same kind of action, with perhaps a better understanding of Fitz Alan's motivations and what led him to join the Templars. I would also hope that the publishers do a more thorough job at copy-editing - I found several typos and mistakes in what is quite a short book.

If you would like an exciting insight into the politics and minds of Crusaders and Saracens in the late twelfth century, you will not be disappointed with this action-packed tale of Templars questing for the Holy Lance.

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