Templar Knights. These words conjure up many things for people – holy warriors, protectors of the Holy Grail, heretics. When I think of the Templar Knights, I think of holy warriors of whom we know very little. Many authors have built stories around the myths and legends of these warriors. One of the best of these with a twist is Jan Guillou. In The Templar Knight: Book Two of the Crusades Trilogy Guillou continues the saga surrounding Arn Magnusson and his betrothed Cecilia Algotsdotter.
Here is a brief summary of the book from Booklist:
The second book of the Crusades Trilogy finds our Viking hero, Arn Magnusson, raised to the illustrious rank of fortress master of the Knights Templar. Exiled to the Holy Land at the tender age of 17 by devious politicos after he and his gal pal, Cecilia Algotsdotter, were caught in the act of “carnal love,” Arn has battled the Saracens, who both fear and respect him, for 10 years as a member of the Templars. While Arn has been battling to keep Jerusalem in the hands of the Christians, Cecilia has been confined for 20 years of “penance” in a cloistered convent back in the frozen north of their homeland and subject to the cruel whims of a malicious Mother Abbess. Both lovers never doubt that they will one day be together again as well as be reunited with their son, Magnus, who was taken from Cecilia at birth. The political intrigue, military action, and exotic setting will appeal to both historical fiction readers and adventure buffs. Although part of a trilogy, this can be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone entry, but most readers who happen upon this title first will surely want to go back for the beginning and will eagerly await the final volume.
I really enjoy this story – Guillou includes several twists and turns that keeps you wondering what is going to happen next. Guillou effortlessly switches between the trials and tribulations of Arn with those of Cecilia. The reader is able to keep pace with the lives of these two heroines. One point on the plot, it skips over the early years of Arn’s penance with the Templar Knights – this is a little disappointing because you do not get to see how Arn rose in the ranks of the Templars.
There are characters who you love to hate and others who you love. Among the former, Mother Rikissa, the abbess of the convent where Cecilia spends most of her penance, is one of the most hated. Her schemes to entrap Cecilia are truly diabolical.
Guillou puts a positive spin on Saladin, the Saracen leader who united the Muslim world to expel the Christians from the Holy Land. From the very little I have read on Saladin, he was a devout, fair, and honest man. So, I think that Guillou does a good job of capturing Saladin’s character, but I do wonder about the relationship between Arn and Saladin. They have a very close and respectful relationship – Guillou goes a little further by implying that Arn would convert to Islam if it wasn’t for his duty to the Templars. This is probably the weakest point of the book – I do not think a leader high in the hierarchy of the Templars would be tempted to convert.
This book is action-centric and keeps you guessing about what will happen next.