The Templar Magician by Paul Doherty

1152 and the Templar Order face a new threat. The Templar Order fiercely guards the Holy Land, though the idealism that brought the Order to victory over five decades earlier is fading, as King Stephen fights a vicious civil war against Henry Fitzempress in England. When Raymond, Count of Tripoli, is brutally murdered a ferocious massacre ensues. Robert de Payens and Philip Mayele are sent to negotiate with the Man in the Mountain, whose sect, The Assassins, is believed responsible for the murder. The two envoys return with disturbing news: the assassination is the work of a rogue coven within the Order itself who are now headed to England. Its leader will use anything, even black magic, to defeat those who stand in his way – including the King himself…

Paul Doherty is one of the UK’s most prolific authors of historical fiction, well known for his historical mysteries set in the Middle Age, Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt. In The Templar Magician Doherty turns his focus to the 12th century and the Templar Order during the First Crusade.

I have used the words “reminiscent of David Gemmell” before in book reviews. It is not that the author’s style and the book’s subject matter put me in mind of Gemmell; it is that the reading experience is the same. Involving, well-researched and adeptly written, these books are the ideal companion on a long journey as they help make the miles magically disappear and instil the reader with a warm, comfortable feeling. But, above all, they are honest books, written with the aim of entertaining and, whenever possible, educating. This is why I found The Templar Magician reminded me of David Gemmell.

This is a book that involves you immediately. After only a few pages I was comfortable with the characters, interested in the setting of Outremer (French for overseas, the name given to the Crusader states established after the First Crusade), and looking forward to learning more about the Templar Knights and the Crusades. I particularly liked that Paul Doherty does not give us the Hollywood, romanticised vision of the Templar Knights; he shows us that many of those who made up the Order’s ranks were unsavoury men who had committed crimes and, with nowhere else to go, had taken the oath to join an Order desperate to increase its numbers.
There is a wonderful feeling of authenticity to The Templar Magician; the result of extensive research and prior knowledge. The characters contrast well and the plot is such as to provide much travel, both in Outremer and England, leading to the opportunity of many encounters and excitement. It certainly makes for compelling reading.

Among the highlights is the siege of Ascalon. Once again the author opts for realism and does not seek to show war as glorious; he shows it in all its horror, with futility and despair the overriding emotions. There may be some who harbour notions that being involved in a major battle may be an exciting event; this will provide a much-needed wake-up call. Here is an extract from the siege:

“The enemy gave their bleak response. A mighty role of kettle drums echoed across the gory remains of battle. A black banner was hoisted. Figures moved along the parapet and a cluster of naked bodies were flung over to jerk and dance as the nooses tightened around their necks. The Franks replied. Prisoners were hustled forward, struggling, and stripped and impaled alive on stakes."
The Templar Magician - Chapter 5

I thoroughly enjoyed The Templar Magician but there was one thing that didn’t work for me, and that was the ending. Everything was all done in a very Hercule Poirot way (considering this is marketed as an historical crime novel I really shouldn’t complain), but as we neared the end EVERY single loose thread was tied up, with all the protagonists in one room as the lead character, Edmund de Payens displayed his deductive prowess. This part seemed to go into unnecessary detail and I found it all a little bit unbelievable. That aside though, this is a book I will look back on fondly and I am pleased to say that I now have a better understanding of the Knights Templar and the 12th century than I had before I began reading it. I can take a lot from the book, and that is after all what reading is all about – learning something new.

I would recommend The Templar Magician to Paul Doherty’s existing fan base and those who love a good of historical fiction, with some fantasy and mystery thrown in for good measure.

About the author
Paul Doherty was born in Middlesbrough. He studied history at Liverpool and Oxford universities and obtained a doctorate at Oxford for his thesis on Edward II and Queen Isabella. He is now headmaster of a school in northeast London and lives with his wife and family near Epping Forest.

8/10 An honest book, written with the aim of both entertaining and educating.

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