Books: Knights of the Black and White

In Brief:  Knights of the Black and White by Jack Whyte is the first in a trilogy dealing with the rise and fall of the Knights Templar.  It begins just before the First Crusade and moves forward to the Templars’ formation and early years.

Pros:  KoftBW is quality historical fiction with a strong spine of research, solid characterization, and a fascinating yet plausible central conspiracy.

Cons:  Some of the plotting and signposting is ponderous within this 750 page tome; could have done with some more action and mayhem, but when one of your central questions revolves around excavation, perhaps this is inevitable.

Review:  The Knights Templar – the mysterious fighting monks of Jerusalem and the Crusader States – have always been an intriguing historical topic.  Not just for yours truly, but for generations of Medieval scholars, armchair historians, and story-tellers in general.  The Templars sudden and meteoric rise to prominence, their legendary secrecy and effectiveness as a fighting force, and their spectacular demise have made them quite popular.  You can find the Templars everywhere from Ivanhoe to current popular authors like Dan Brown to the popular video game series, Assassin’s Creed.

As far as a Beemsville nexus:  I once wrote a scholarly paper about the Templar’s banking and financial system (it even appeared in the EIU graduate journal, Historia) and can also lay claim to a poorly-executed-but-cool-in-concept first act of a screenplay about them.  So yeah, when I saw this book on display at our local library, I had to give it a shot.

Jack Whyte, a seasoned author of historical fiction, is similarly a Templar geek.  He’s familiar with the literature – scholarly and popular – and so also aware of the pitfalls and traps of tackling a grand sprawling story about them.  The first hint as to where he’s heading with his premise can be found in the novel’s very first epigraph:  “It has served us well, this myth of Christ.” -Pope Benedict VI

And so we meet Sir Hugh De Payens, a stoic yet promising young knight in Southern France, who has been practicing for his initiation into a secretive group known as the Order.  His initiation into a secret society will be familiar to those who’ve studied or interacted with such, in this case setting up the Order as an ancient group linked to the Temple of Solomon and a strict Jewish tradition – the Essenes.  As Hugh learns more about the society, he’s exposed to additional teaching and lore, and eventually comes to question the tenets and structures of the Catholic Church.   Continue reading