I know, I know. I said I was going to wait until closer to the publication date. Patience has never been my strong suit.
Before we get started, let's take a moment and admire that cover, shall we?
As I have said before, I personally prefer the UK edition over the US edition. But I also understand the need to change it, as here in the US we unfortunately have morons running around wearing white hoods and co-opting this symbol and altering it to spread their message of hate, which I will not show as a comparison because I will not bother to give them any more attention than they have already received in the last week. Anyone who glances quickly at the UK cover might mistake a book about the Templars for a book about the KKK. I don't know for sure if that is the reason for the cover change, as covers are most often different from the UK to the US, this is just my own personal observation. If I am right, awesome. If not, awesome too.
Full disclosure: I received my digital copy of the US edition via NetGalley after I had mentioned on Jones' Facebook page that I requested it but was denied. He was gracious enough to listen to my complaining and asked Viking to get me a copy. I was content with that and devoured the book quickly. By the way, if you have not yet checked out one of his Facebook Live chats, where he gives away books and vents about various reactions he gets in regards to his hairstyles and colors, I highly recommend doing so. He's hilarious and that library of his is To. Die. For.
What happened next is even more awesome. The UK publisher, Head of Zeus, held a giveaway for five autographed copies of a limited edition proof of the UK edition. I was lucky enough to win one and I pretty much have not stopped smiling since.
See how pretty it is?
All this being said, the following review is my honest opinion and was in no way swayed by my receiving not one, but two copies of a book I had pretty much been dying to get my hands on since it was announced.
Now, on with the show!
Rating: 5 Stars
I know what many of you might be thinking; there is no way I can be objective about a book by my very most favorite historian and this will basically be one long blathering-on about how the book is awesome and amazing and I that heart Dan Jones.
Part of that is true. I am going to tell you that this book is awesome and amazing. But not because I fangirl so much over Jones that he will probably have a restraining order by the time his St Louis tour date rolls around and I will only be able to shout at him from outside the bookstore fifty feet away, but because he is an incredibly talented writer. I challenge anyone to pick up one of his books and tell me it is not thoroughly researched, as well as written in a way that keeps you fully engaged as though it were a novel. Non-fiction is hard for a lot of people and I get it. I know I am kind of an anomaly in the blogger world in that I read non-fiction almost exclusively (at least in the part of the blogger world that I currently inhabit). For a lot of people non-fiction books, and history in particular, appear daunting because people think they are simply boring regurgitations of dates and places, with central figures often having the same name so that they are only distinguishable by I, II, III, and so on. The fantastic thing about the way Jones writes is that he conveys all of that same information, but he is a gifted storyteller. He brings to life each Henry or Edward, for example, in such a way that you can't help but remember their best and worst because he has made them stand out, each in their own unique way. This latest book is no different than his first four and I look forward to the projects he will work on in the future. (PLEASE please please do something specifically on Eleanor of Aquitaine, whether it is a traditional documentary or short docu-series in the vein of Elizabeth that you and Dr. Lipscomb worked on. PLEASE!)
My own knowledge of Templar history is a bit spotty, as is my knowledge of any of the Crusades besides II and III. Even then, my area of expertise involves Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard I on their respective journeys, unrelated to the various holy orders who called the Holy Land home. I have read books that mention the Templars and seen a documentary here and there, but my knowledge was largely confined to their devastating end.
It would be easy to be overwhelmed by this book as it plots in quite a detailed way the humble beginnings of the Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem - easy to see why the name was shortened to the Knights Templar, eh? - to the height of their power and then swift fall. To avoid such overwhelm-ishness, the book is divided into four sections, presenting the various ways in which the order evolved. First, we see them as pilgrims in the first four decades of their existence from 1102 to 1144. Gradually that role then shifts to that of soldiers in the next section - though they were always prepared to shed blood for Christ. This specific section relays the following forty years, from 1144 to 1187. The third section recalls the Templars evolution into a third role, that of bankers and wealth managers to kings and aristocratic crusaders from all over their known world as the Templar fortune grew beyond what anyone could have ever dreamed. The role of world bankers grew between 1189 and 1260, eventually leading to their destruction. We see this all happen in the final section titled 'Heretics', which covers the final fifty years of the order's existence, from 1260 to 1311. It is quite a roller coaster ride that we are treated to and the journey is well worth it.
I appreciate the epilogue that Jones included, specifically addressing the issue of the Holy Grail in relation to the Order. He notes that through fictional work from the period, "The Templars had been transformed for the first time from a crusader militia into the guardians of the mythical Holy Grail" (page 405, UK proof). This is accompanied by a footnote that the Grail was in fact a medieval invention in relation to various Arthurian romances and not an actual object from the Last Supper. Sorry, Indiana Jones. I'm bummed too.
In addition to this wealth of information of the Templar story, we also get supplemental material to help complete the picture. This includes maps, notes on names, brief bios of major players of the time (Hey Eleanor!), the popes (no antipopes) through those centuries, the kings and queens of Jerusalem, and finally the names of every Master of the Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem. As one would expect from Jones, the notes section and bibliography are extensive and light the way for anyone looking to further read up on the subject.
I have purposely been a bit sparse on details from the book, as we are still roughly a month out from the book being available for public consumption. I don't want to give away a lot of these fascinating details because I do hope you will discover them for yourselves. If you care to see the notes I took as I was reading, you can see them on Goodreads. I also hope that any silliness that sometimes accompanies my discussion of Jones and his work does not deter you from picking up this book, or any of his others (yes, I do understand in reality that we are not BFFs. Yet.) The story alone is worth it, as their rise and fall was spectacular indeed (to steal from the subtitle of the US edition.) But the way in which Jones' writes will keep your attention the whole way through. Highly recommended.
UK Pub Date: September 7th
US Pub Date: September 19th