Keeper of the Grail (Amazon USA – UK – Canada)
by Michael P Spradlin
G. P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin)
Wow; this is an exciting series.
Penguin sent me these books over the summer. The second book in The Youngest Templar series, Trail of Fate, was coming out this week, so they thoughtfully sent me the first book, Keeper of the Grail, as well as the second.
I devoured both!
Keep in mind that this series hit a bunch of my loves all at once. It was historical fantasy, which I love. It was placed during the Third Crusade. I was once a fairly serious Crusade scholar. My area of expertise is the first Crusade, but it’s hard to study the First Crusade without learning about the other Crusades as well. (To be specific, I own five books on the Crusades. Three are about the First Crusade in particular, the other two are about all the Crusades. One of them is The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, so don’t think I just got one side of the story. I also own Will Durant’s Caesar and Christ, which is to blame for getting me interested in the Crusades in the first place.)
Anyway, the story is about a boy who was abandoned at an monastery. The monks decide to call him Tristan. When he is about fourteen years old, a group of Templars come to quarter at the monastery. One of them, Sir Thomas, is impressed by Tristan’s ability with animals, and he asks Tristan to become his squire. At the same time, Tristan runs afoul of the powerful Sir Hugh. Eventually, they end up in the Holy Land.
The plot moves very fast because in no time at all, they are in the thick of the battle for Acre, an important port city. During this battle, Tristan’s actions save the life of Richard III, King of England. As soon as they conquer Acre, Saladin besieges the city. They hold out for a while, but then Saladin’s forces close in, and Sir Thomas knows the city is going to fall.
And that’s when he entrusts Tristan with a precious treasure, and sends him on en epic quest across Europe.
One thing I would have liked to seen here is more development of Sir Thomas and Tristan’s relationship. Thomas tells him at one point that Tristan is the only person he trusts. Since there are other good knights among their company–excellent knights, to all appearances–this came across as false.
Two additional people show up in the latter half of the book. I don’t want to give away their identity, but one of them is a Muslim, and is therefore the enemy. Except this person switches sides and helps Tristan for reasons that I wish the other two characters would have explored more. But it is a very short novel, and I guess there wasn’t room to explore all the character’s motivations to the extent I would have wished.
This novel followed the Mythic Journey template, which I learned about on Kimber An’s site. Think the basic plot of Star Wars, of The Lord of the Ring, of many coming-of-age, or bildungsroman novels. It’s a perfect template for YA or middle grade, but it makes it a bit predictable for the adult market. Still, it was highly enjoyable and I just tore through it. It did end on a cliffhanger, but fear not! The publisher provided the first chapter of the second book, so you don’t come away unsatisfied.
Trail of Fate (Amazon USA – UK – Canada)
by Michael P. Spradlin
G. P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin)
Trail of Fate picks up in the next breath after the end of Keeper of the Grail. Literally. Tristan and his two companions, which I will keep unnamed for the purpose of this review, is on the run across Europe with Sir Hugh hot on their trail. They end up on the east coast of France after surviving a shipwreck. Oh, Tristan also has a fourth companion, a small female dog, which, at the beginning of Trail of Fate, is unnamed. In this novel, the dog becomes an important character.
After Tristan collapses on the shore, he is found by a sword-bearing group of young men and women. They take him for a spy, but eventually accept his story that he is a Templar on his way home. Except they have no love for Templars. They are Cathars, which is a group that preaches tolerance toward other religions, except Templars, apparently. Their leader is the beautiful Celia, daughter of a leader of the Cathar movement.
Tristan gets more and more involved with Celia’s struggles, and his male friend (who is pictured on the cover) must remind him that he is on a quest. At this point, Tristan’s companions know nothing of Tristan’s true quest, since Thomas swore him to absolute secrecy. By the end of the novel, Tristan decides that his friends has earned his trust, and he takes them into his confidence, completely.
Although I enjoyed this novel, I didn’t feel that the story propelled the overarching story of the series along very far. Toward the end, there are some secrets revealed–especially about Tristan’s parentage–but much of it is one long side quest. It makes me wonder how many books are going to be in the series altogether. It ends at another cliffhanger, and since my copy is an advance reader copy, I didn’t get the perk of having the first chapter of book 3 included at the end. I guess that’s the price I must pay for being able to read it early.
I especially liked the cover of this novel because I know exactly what shot that the character is trying to take here. And it’s a very important shot, indeed!
I thoroughly enjoyed these novels. The characters are unabashedly Christan, except when they are Muslim. The Muslim character’s Muslim-ness could have been explored a bit more. I could not classify this as a Christian novel, because the theme is not Christian-centric. Yes, the subjects are Christian, but you don’t get the impression that the author has an agenda here. There are evil Christians and there are good Christians. The character spends such a short amount of time in the Holy Land that you don’t really have the opportunity to explore any evil Muslims. Mr. Spradlin toes a delicate line here, but eliminated much of the difficulty for himself by keeping the characters mostly in Europe.
This is a rousing adventure, which I heartily recommend for the young and old(er) alike!