The Holy Lance: Book 1 of the English Templar Series
The author sets his ‘work of military historical adventure’ in the Holy Land in 1191 during the Third Crusade. A ferocious fighter and knight-brother of the Templars, Michael Fitz Alan is charged by the Grand Master of his order and King Richard to lead a small force to recover the Lance of Longinus, which pierced the side of Christ on the Cross. The relic, which is hidden in a secluded hospital for the treatment of lepers, lies in what is now Saracen territory.
From the siege of Acre to numerous skirmishes along their route, against not only Saracens but rival Christian factions, the action remains unrelenting and violent. The Templars are portrayed as ‘holy, disciplined and deadly killers’, religious fanatics really, but this was a cruel age, and their foes are worse, inflicting torture, murder, and rape on innocent civilians. The picture of shifting alliances of convenience and ambitious leaders callously justifying all manner of atrocities as a means to an end, whether it be personal ambition or the destruction of non-believers (widely interpreted), seems depressingly familiar in the Middle East nearly a millennium later.
Fitz Alan is an interesting figure: he serves God to atone for past pursuit of vainglory, but he is taking the first, uncertain steps from intolerant and simplistic fanaticism towards compassion and understanding. He finds the Lance, but will he manage to deliver it to Richard and his unscrupulous chancellor, both of whom he dislikes and mistrusts? Will he choose to? As first in a series, many plot strands are left hanging, and there are a surprising number of annoying typographical errors. Recommended, nevertheless.