After writing 31 Knights Templar Adventures featuring Sir Baldwin de Furnhill and his sidekick, Simon Puttock, Michael Jecks has written a prequel to the series as a (temporary, we hope) farewell while he works on other endeavours which include his trilogy of Hundred Years War stories which began with Fields of Glory, published in 2014.
Templar’s Acre begins with Baldwin, a seasoned warrior of age 17, wounded and on board a ship escaping the over-run city of Acre lost to the Muslims under Sultan al-Malik al-Ashraf Salah al-Din Khalil ibn Qalawun. Jecks then takes us on Baldwin’s journey as he comes to the Holy Land to help retake Jerusalem to redeem himself after committing a murder at home in Devon. He loses everything to pirates as he nears his goal, is befriended by the horsemaster who supplied mounts to the Templars, and quickly in need of his protection as the naïve young man is easily taken advantage of at first. Baldwin develops some good friendships under Ivo’s protection, falls in love, and develops new sword skills which will help him in the coming battle. But he also makes some serious enemies.
It’s the spring of 1290. Tripoli has been crushed, and Acre is the last Christian stronghold. It is a city percolating with thriving merchants, tradesmen, peasants, taverns, churches, and people of various European cities as well as Muslims. Newly arrived pilgrims and soldiers of the cross are often undisciplined and lack an understanding of the city. They get into brawls and assume anyone with a beard, dark skin, and dressed in strange clothes are the enemy and they spread through the city leaving the carnage of Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike behind them. This is the end of an already uncertain peace with Qalawun.
The following spring, Baldwin has lost his love, the city is full of squabbles and tensions as to whether to prepare for war or to go on about their business as usual, and the city needs much reinforcement of its walls and towers. By the time the enemy comes, Baldwin is strong, brave, and now a seasoned captain of a troop of twenty (a vintaine — love the glossary at the front of the book), knighted for saving the life of Templar Marshall, Geoffrey de Vendac, and has rescued his love, a Muslim slave who had been beaten and sent to a farm by her mistress on suspicion of telling her business to Baldwin.
This is a book of great adventure with spies, warriors, traitors, cowards, and heroes. Even among the Templars and Hospitallers, there are those with personal motives and agendas. In his many scuffles and encounters, we see Baldwin change from a callow youth to a skillful captain with an eye for strategy and a concern for his friends, companions-at-arms, and those citizens in need of protection. Jecks is thoroughly versed in medieval warfare and is able to describe the war machines, and the hand-to-hand combat with all the danger and excitement they generated. We experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the massive trebuchet languidly sending its devil pots of Greek fire into the streets and its rocks pounding into the walls with chards of rock flying everywhere. We see the terror of the knights, as well as the citizens, as the sultan’s army approaches, “a seething mass of men, and horses, and machines, all crawling along from the south like a massive black centipede, seemingly flat against the ground. . . a vast malevolent creature.”
Templar’s Acre is a great, thick book, but it is a compelling read that took me a little under two days. It’s a departure from the murder mysteries this series is known for but a departure that filled a gap and was full of a different kind of adventure in an exotic setting with strange and unusual characters, all of whom lent their own authenticity to the story. Cast of characters and maps of the city and area are included at the front. I look forward to reading Jecks’ other books but will wait with some impatience for him to return to give us another medieval murder featuring Sir Baldwin and Simon Puttock. * * * * *