First of all, I guess I should fess up that I'll read pretty much anything published by First Second -- I completely trust their editorial and artistic choices. Which is not to say I love everything they put out, but that I will give it a chance, and generally come away satisfied. This particular book jumped out at me because the cover art seems to indicate the kind of swashbuckling sensibility I have a weakness for, and it has to do with the Crusaders. I grew up the Middle East and have visited a ton of castles and other Crusades-related sites, so things of that ilk tend to interest me. (I'm not, however, generally interested in the whole Templar conspiracy thing, which seems to have grown from a cottage industry into a full-fledged multinational, multimedia juggernaut.)
The story here takes place among a group of French Templars, living in the Paris Temple on the outskirts of the city. One of these is Martin, who is down in the dumps after setting eyes on his old flame (she married another man 12 years earlier, prompting him to join the holy brotherhood). His two pals convince him to sneak into the city after hours for a little R&R to soothe his pain, and it just so happens that while they're away, a royal edict to arrest all Templars is carried out, leaving them some of the few free Templars in France. The rest of the story is more or less devoted to Martin's attempts to keep out of the clutches of the king's men, while also telling the history of how the kings of France and England moved to squash the power of the order and seize its sizable assets.
The book is the first of a projected trilogy, and as such, it has to do the heavy lifting of establishing the setting, characters, etc. This can make things a bit awkward at times -- for example, Martin's two Templar friends are very important in the first half of the book, but then pretty much disappear for rest of it. Their place is taken by another pair of similarly rougish allies. Along the same lines, a rather conventional subplot involving Martin and his former flame starts to develop and then also disappears -- presumably, like his first set of friends, to show up later in the trilogy. The whole framing of the book as part of a trilogy is kind of problematic in general since there's nothing on the outside of the book gives to tell the prospective reader/buyer that it's the first in a trilogy. In fact, the jacket copy is totally misleading. It reads "A group of renegade knights, back from the Crusades, band together to pull off the greatest heist the medieval world has ever seen." The thing of it is, the heist doesn't happen in this book -- it's going to be the second book!
Finally, while I recognize that this is a work of fiction, and thus gets to play fast and loose with truth, it's a slippery slope when the plot is built around real events. The jacket copy quoted above states that the heroes are back from the Crusades. The book opens with a section showing the fall of Acre in 1291, and then skips ahead to Paris, 1307. Martin and his friends are shown in these early pages walking the streets of Paris complaining that they ate better food while overseas. But Martin elsewhere says he joined the Templars 12 years ago (ie. 1295), which is after the Crusades were effectively over (the fall of Acre is generally regarded as the nail in the coffin), so the chronology doesn't really make much sense.
But truth be told, these are all quibbles -- the story is meant to be a swashbuckling adventure in the tradition of Pere Dumas, and it certainly is. The artwork is bold, the coloring vivid without being gaudy, and the paneling flows quite well. My only true complaint is that the story is broken into thirds, so that we have to wait several years for the rest of the trilogy. I can understand from a publishing perspective why it's done that way, but I like my historical adventures to be self-contained epics, rather than small bites.