Monday, August 3, 2009

Standard of Honor - Jack Whyte

Standard of Honor
Jack Whyte
Viking Canada
Copyright Date: 2007
The description:
The second novel in the thrilling historical trilogy about the rise and fall of the powerful and mysterious Templars, from the author of the immensely popular Camulod Chronicles.

In 1187 one of the few survivors of the Battle of Hattin, young Scots Templar Alexander Sinclair, escapes into the desert despite his wounds. Sinclair has learned about the execution of the surviving Templars after the battle, so when he is rescued, he says nothing of his own standing among the Order of the Temple. Sinclair is one of the Inner Sanctum of the Order-a member of the ancient Brotherhood of Sion, a secret society within the secret society.

Two years after the battle, Sir Henry St. Clair is awakened after midnight by a visit from his liege lord, Richard the Lionheart. King Richard is assembling an army to free the Holy Land from the grip of Saladin and his Saracens, and he wants Sir Henry, his first and favorite teacher, to sail with him as his master-atarms. The old man is unwilling to go-he neither likes nor trusts Richard, having found him both a sadist and an egomaniac. But his future, and that of his young son Andre, a rising knight in the order, depends on his allegiance to Richard. Sir Henry knows that Andre worships his older cousin, Alexander Sinclair of the Scottish branch of their family, who has been in the Holy Land for years. Alexander will be an ally in an unfamiliar land. Sir Henry agrees to go despite serious misgivings about Richard, and his motives for war.

From the moment the first soldiers of the Third Crusade set foot in the Holy Land, the story of the three templars unfolds as the events of the campaign and the political and personal intrigues of the Crusade's leaders again bring the St. Clair family-and the Order-to the edge of disaster.
This book fills another slot in my attempt at the TBR Challenge Lite. I've certainly had it long enough, having pre-ordered it before the hardcover release date!

Where the first book of the Templar Trilogy, Knights of the Black and White is set around the founding of the order of the Knights Templar, as they are most frequently known, this book is set in the middle period of the Templars' existence. Standard of Honor begins with the battle at Hattin, when so many of the Knights, both the Templars and the Hospitalers, were killed. Soon after, the book changes focus slightly to the start of Richard the Lionheart's crusade against Saladin.

There are two main characters, Alexander Sinclair, and Andre St. Clair, cousins, who are both in the Order. Alexander is the main character for the first part of Standard of Honor, and afterward, it is Andre.

As the series is a trilogy, this is definitely the middle book, and to a certain extent, it shows, as Andre raises a lot of points, both plot and otherwise, which remained unresolved throughout the story. I'm hoping to get some answers in the next book, although, given the structure of the set, I'm not exactly hopeful. Where the first book detailed the founding of the order, this one is set in the middle, and the third book will lay out the end of the Knights Templar, so there's going to be a century or so's gap between these two.

Running through all three of the books, Knights of the Black and White, Standard of Honor and the newest one, Order in Chaos is a thread that seems as though it were straight from the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Jack Whyte is playing with the idea of an inner order that pre-dates the Templars in this series. Overall, I'd have to say it works too. The "Friendly Families", as he terms this, certainly do seem to add an extra air of mystery to the story. Perhaps it lessens the historical accuracy, but that's why its termed "historical fiction", after all.

Jack Whyte writes with loving detail, especially for armor, weapons and fighting techniques, all of which add to the ease of visualization of the story, but they also do tend to make the book a bit of a slower read. Of course, that sense that it's a slower read, might simply have been brought on by the fact that the book is nearly six hundred pages instead.

Once I got into the story, I couldn't put the book down at all. I read it late into the night, and on all my breaks at work as well.

One thing I've noted is that Jack Whyte's books seem to be "guy" books. I've almost never seen a woman buying them, and most of the people who've told me that they read his other series, the Camolud Chronicles, are also men. Perhaps its the military-oriented focus of the stories?

Nearly all of the characters in this book are men, but then, it's to be expected, given the subject matter of an order of warrior-monks, and the Crusades. There are a few scenes with women, but not too many. "Guy" book or not, I really did enjoy Standard Of Honor, and I've started reading the final book, Order in Chaos as well.

I remember when reading Knights of the Black and White that I wished the author had included some form of further reading section. When I got to the end of this book, there was a pleasant surprise in that there were a few books listed in the Acknowledgments. Lately its something I've found that I appreciate being included.

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