Merrimon Book Reviews

Dirham copper coin showing Saladin,
Mayyafariqin (Silvan/Turkey), 1189-1190 AD

13th century depiction of Siege of Nicaea. Crusaders Throwing Heads Of Muslims Over Ramparts
"Histoire d'Outre Mer" Guillaume de Tyr.

The first headquarters of the Knights Templar, Al Aqsa Mosque, on Jerusalem's Temple Mount. The Crusaders called it the Temple of Solomon, as it was built on top of the ruins of the original Temple, and it was from this location that the Knights took their name of Templar.
Photo credit: Barbara Kabel

From Medieval Book Reviews
The Templar Knight
The Templar Knight by Jan Guillou
by Jan Guillou

Exquisite installment in medieval heroic epic

Now exiled to the Holy Land for his illicit love, Arn Magnusson has risen in the ranks of the Knights Templar.  Known as Al-Ghouti among the Saracens, Arn's reputation precedes him.  On both sides, Arn's reputation of strength in battle, intellect and heart gives him standing not only among his own men, but also those of his enemy.  In 1177, a momentary truce and a chance encounter with Saladin bring sworn enemies together in ways that will forever change the course of events and Arn's life.  Arn serves as the the master of the Gaza fortress.  As a Knight's Templar, his duty is more important than his life.  More important than Gaza is his duty to protect those closer to Jerusalem and slow down Saladin's march forward.  Separated from Cecilia, the woman he loves by twenty years of time and miles of distance, his one hope is to fulfill his sentence of exile.  Cecilia lives out her sentence at a convent back home.  While the Crusades rage on overseas, another battle, a war between clans, rages within the monastic walls.  Mother Rikissa uses her position to isolate and punish Cecila, but Cecilia might just have a few plans of her own in the making.  As Cecilia uncovers the threads of intrigue that led to her exile, she is more determined than ever to right past wrongs.  Living separately, Arn and Cecilia both carry each other in their hearts.  Will they survive their exile and twenty years of exile to be together?

In the second book the Crusades trilogy, Jan Guillou skips over Arn's rise within the Templar order.  The novel begins with a dramatic opening of Saladin and Arn's chance encounter told from Saladin's point of view, a point of view that sets the tone for the rest of the book.  Arn and Saladin discuss philosophy and religion.  Arn is a man deeply devoted to his religion and his cause, yet he also knows the Koran and the other side.  Rather than demonizing the enemy, he has a keen sense of understanding and respect for his opponent.  Although the author's controversial biography clearly indicates a political bias, in this novel, the author accomplishes what so few can do with such a controversial medieval topic as the Crusades.  He develops both sides of the divide with a wonderful richness and depth without resorting to the kinds of simplistic caricature often seen.  Both men are devout.  Both men have an honest depth in their religious devotion and their religious commitment.  Both men have a profound sense of honor.  In contrast to these men, the more fanatical of both groups are seen for their failings, either their senselessness, unthinking bravado, or their corruption.  Indeed, the battle scenes are all the more rich and exciting on account of the author's development of the characters and their strategies.  A sense of the tragic builds throughout the novel as fate brings these two men together in a war that pits them against one another, keeping a reader on the edge of his/her seat.

Cecilia's story alternates with Arn's adventures.  
Mother Rikissa is simply wicked, making a wonderful villain and contrast to those characters whose devotion is genuine.  Those unfamiliar with the medieval world may find some of her tactics shocking but to those familiar with some of the period's extremes, her character brings a sense of authenticity as well as dramatic suspense to the story.  Cecilia's friendships with other scapegoats in the convent reveal her generosity, her ingenuity, and her daring of character.  Cecilia's battle against Mother Rikissa is just as suspenseful as Arn's.  One reinforces the other.  Like Arn, now Cecilia moves from a place of innocence and naivete to that of a more mature and accomplished woman.

THE TEMPLAR KNIGHT is an exquisite installment in this medieval epic heroic trilogy.  Again,
Jan Guillou incorporates the history of the time with the literary themes of arms, religion and romance so loved by medieval literature enthusiasts.  Lovable characters become even more lovable.  The second installment develops the details of the plotting behind Arn and Cecilia's separation.  Whereas the first book, THE ROAD TO JERUSALEM, focused on Arn's youth and innocence, here in THE TEMPLAR KNIGHT, readers see the hero as a mature man in the midst of his accomplishments.  Although each book can be read as a stand alone, I highly recommend reading both books together.   Although different in tone, together, these two books build the sweeping epic tone of trilogy.  One book is not just a rehash of the other.  The emotional tone of each varies, the hero' and heroine's age and vision change, and history itself moves forward.  Once again, the translator has done an excellent job rendering this story into flowing English and expertly handling the dramatic changes in point of view.  Medievalist or not, if you love tales of arms, religion and romance, this trilogy is not to be missed.  If, like me, you love all things medieval, THE TEMPLAR KNIGHT and its predecessor THE ROAD TO JERUSALEM, are absolute must reads.  OUTSTANDING!  This reader eagerly awaits the too far off final installment! 

Publisher: Harper (May 4, 2010)
Other books in The Crusades trilogy: The Road to Jerusalem (April 2009),
The Kingdom at the End of the Road (summer 2011)
Translator: Steven T. Murray

Reviewed by Merrimon, Medieval Book Reviews
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