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by Jordan Mechner; illus. by LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland; color by
If ever a man were cursed to “live in interesting times,” it is Martin
of Troyes, member of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon (the
Knights Templar) and protagonist of Mechner’s spirited graphic novel.
The year is 1307, and France’s cash-strapped King Philip the Fair has
identified a funding source for his current war—the
treasury near Paris. The problem is, the knights are
answerable to no man but the pope, so the only way to shake the
treasure loose is to discredit the entire order on grounds of heresy
and take their worldly possessions into the king’s own safekeeping.
Wily minister Guillaume de Nogaret engineers the scandal, backs the
weak-willed pope into a political corner, conducts mass arrests, and
extracts confessions under torture. Problem solved. Except, as Mechner
posits, the treasure isn’t where Nogaret expects it to be, and a few
Templars slip through his net—among
Martin, who just happens to be in the wrong, or perhaps the right,
place on October 13, 1307, as the arrests begin.
When Martin spots Isabelle, the now-married love of his former life, on
a Paris balcony, a pair of brother knights stage an evening of drunken
consolation that culminates in Isabelle’s abduction, a wild,
serio-comic chase by King Philip’s men, and a dunking in the Seine. The
kidnapping may have misfired, but at least the trio is not on the
Temple grounds when the king has the entire monastery arrested and
taken away in chains. Martin offers to go in search of information
while his friends lie low, but his trusted informant turns him over the
inquisitors, and he makes an escape while being transferred to the
torturers. Now on the run, Martin meets up with another knight,
Bernard, and a priest, Brother Dominic, who have also eluded capture.
Brother Dominic has accidentally intercepted a letter to the Templar
Master in England, stating that the French treasure has been stashed in
a secret location within the Temple itself, and a decoy of hay carts
have misled soldiers into believing it’s been moved off the Temple
premises. Martin and his new band of brothers realize that they are now
in sole possession of this critical information, and they vow to track
down the treasure and hold it insacred trust for their Order until the
heat is off.
Mechner treats this historical adventure with a cinematic flair that is
undoubtedly traceable to his screenwriting and game-development
careers. A flashback from the Crusaders’ defeat at Acre opens the tale,
contrasting the rampant brutality of the “Holy War” with the following
scenes in Paris several years later, in which the once fearsome knights
are now discouraged, discontented, and far too domesticated in this
peacetime life. Mechner limns backroom cabal and mano a mano swordfights with equal
ease, and he’s as adept with drunken banter as with diplomatic
formality. Political background is smoothly incorporated in convincing
dialogue as the renegade knights speculate on the arrests, royal and
ecclesiastical retainers plot and jockey for power, and public
proclamations attempt to sway popular opinion in King Philip’s favor. A
substantial concluding note reveals Mechner to be an avid researcher of
the period, engaged both in presenting a factual account of the power
play between crown and papacy that brought down the Templars and in
creating credible if imaginative characters based on records of the few
knights who escaped the general round-up.
Illustrators Pham and Puvilland fairly revel in the medieval settings:
dense forests in which a priest can overhear vital information while
urinating against a tree; sheep pastures into which a trio of knights
can pop out from an underground tunnel; roadways along which Philip’s
men thunder on horseback; rural hamlets in which peasants hope to be
left alone by their powerful betters. While paying exquisite attention
to historical detail, the artists never lose sight of comic-book
convention—Isabelle has the doe eyes, bee-stung lips, and exaggerated
cleavage that would be very much at home in spandex, boots, and cape;
realistic backgrounds occasionally give way to solid blocks of fiery
color and bursts of rays at moments of strong emotion or violence; and
of course “bam” and “krak” supply the requisite
soundtrack for crossed swords and cracked heads.
YA readers who lamented that Catherine Jinks’ Pagan series had finally
run its course might not think to look for a worthy successor in the
graphic-novel section. Direct them there posthaste, and then begin the
impatient wait for Volume Two.
Elizabeth Bush, Reviewer
Cover image from Solomon's Thieves
©2010 by LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland. Used by permission of
First Second Books.
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This page was last updated on July 1, 2010.