on 1 August 2013
One of the highlights of my year is the new Angus Donald novel, but this new book was slightly more anticipated than usual. You see, while I've thoroughly enjoyed all Angus' books, I have noted the opposite of what they used to say about the Star Trek Movies (the even movies were the better ones). While I thoroughly enjoyed Holy Warrior (2) and Warlord (4), it was Outlaw (1) and King's Man (3) that were outstanding in the series and eclipsed many other great reads of the time. So would book 5 continue this trend?
Simply, yes. Grail Knight may well be the best of the five and, even if not, it is on a par with the outstanding King's Man, which is about the highest praise to give anyway.
Why is it a win? Well to start with, Angus has consistently managed to take Robin Hood (one of the most clichéd subjects in history) and write a series about him that repeatedly side-steps cliché and delivers fresh, engaging and fascinating tales that do not irritate in the way Robin Hood could so easily do (ahem, Ridley Scott!) That in itself is a feat. But this tale is also about the Holy Grail. No it's not a spoiler. Even if you didn't realise from the title (giveaway #1) the lead-up in book 4 made it obvious this was going to happen. And if there's anything that delivers more cliché and general awfulness than Robin Hood as a subject, it is the Holy Grail. And yet in this book, Angus has managed to avoid cliché and awfulness very neatly. The result is that, in a book about two things that are a minefield of cheese, Angus has created a gem of a tale that delivers shock, joy, fascination and sheer power. Kudos.
The tale delves deeper into the awful and mysterious `Master' and his secretive order within the Knights Templar. It portrays the Templars in an unusual light, making them bad guys, dubious and selfish, harsh and outside the law, while not accusing them of heresy and demon worship as seems to be the norm for writers these days. (Minor spoiler coming here:) The quest for the grail leads Alan from his home in Westbury, alongside his liege lord Robin, leaving a ruined home and a dying love to search for the one thing that can save her. It leads us to Cathar country in south west France and explores that beautiful world, centring on somewhere I have always wanted to visit. The plot never falters, hurtling along at pace, ever goading the reader to `just a few more pages'. The plot is neatly constructed and leaves no loose ends, in fact tying up a number of frayed threads from the previous books!
Probably the biggest win for this book with me, though, is the cast. As well as the essentials, a number of old friends return, including one of my faves - Sir Nicholas de Scras. And... Nur. You see I had become rather irritated with the witch woman in the previous books and had even gone as far as to grumble about her on Twitter at Angus! And yet she returns in Grail Knight to take her place in the cast and does so in such a well-crafted way that I thoroughly enjoyed it and found that I was appreciating her part as much as any other.
The book is happy and sad, full of subterfuge and open action, tense and calming, magical and spiritual and practical. It has everything you might expect from one of Angus' books, but in spades.
Be prepared to put aside all your other hobbies and much sleep (I read 80 pages in the middle of the night yesterday) and enjoy a book every bit as good as King's Man. Fans will not be disappointed and, if you haven't read Angus' other books, I would recommend them as always, but now with 25% more voracity!
Oh and the ending? Masterful. Simply masterful.
I sent the author a message when I had almost finished it, calling Grail Knight a Tour De Force and that is what it is.
on 13 August 2013
Sir Alan Dale is trying to enjoy his new found wealth in peace and quiet. His estate at Westbury is providing a comfortable living and his beloved wife Goody is pregnant with their first child. Dale hopes that his life of daring and adventure are now over but when your Lord is Robin Earl of Locksley, danger and adventure are never far away.
When an old crime surfaces, powerful forces are drawn to Westbury seeking vengeance. The Knights Templar are determined to bring Dale to justice and will use any means to ensure it.
To make matters worse, the witch Nur has been seen around Westbury and when Goody falls ill Dale fears the worst.
With Goody on her deathbed, Robin convinces Alan that the only thing that can save her is the Holy Grail.
Christendoms holiest and scared object is in the hands of an old enemy and Robin is determined to take it from him.
So with the Templars dogging their every step and Nur as one of the Grail Companions, Robin and Alan travel across England and France in their quest for the Holy Grail.
Can Alan survive the array of enemies lined up against him and return the Grail to Westbury in time to save his beloved Goody and their unborn child?
Grail Knight is the fifth book in the Outlaw Chronicles by Angus Donald and while you can read it by itself I would recommend you start from the beginning of the series to get the full back story.
If you read these books expecting the classic Robin Hood stories and characters you are going to be sorely disappointed.
Angus Donald's Robin is much more of an early gangster, surviving on robbery, murder and protection rackets. Even though by Grail Knight he is an Earl with large estates, old habits die hard and he is an expert in getting the Alan, the narrator of the story in trouble.
Grail Knight is written much like an old fashioned Fantasy quest tale in the style of Tolkien or Eddings. The Grail Companions all fill a need or niche within the group.
Robin is the Leader and thief, we have a virtuous Knight, a Holy man who is the groups conscience, the loyal and brave squire, a fighter man, Nur is the bad guy brought into the group and Dale has the personal and pressing need to complete the quest.
It even has the all powerful enemy with the power and men to dog their every step and as they overcome each obstacle the group draws closer together.
I really enjoyed this aspect of the book and it is quite a departure from the first four books and shows the versatility of author's writing. Each book has had a different aspect which has included, religious fanaticism, royal power and military might.
The history in his book is as usual top notch. Donald comes across as an author who knows his subject and is never afraid to put lots of historical details into his books. This doesn't affects or slow the story and gives the book a rich depth of detail.
I raced through this book in just a couple of sittings and this is always a good measure of how good a book is.
This book is Angus Donald at his best and I can highly recommend the whole series.
on 27 February 2014
Having finished it on the day it was published is quite good I think, and that was mostly due to it becoming increasingly compelling the further you get into it. Here I have to admit that I have only read one other in this series, the first, but as a stand alone read, there were no issues at all. Reminders of what happened in previous books were unobtrusive and felt natural and did not jar as they can do ('Sharpe' novels for instance) and allowed the flow of consciousness to continue unhindered. And that brings me to another point - Angus Donald has grown as a writer and in confidence with his art and it was a real pleasure to read.
I know a little about the author from social media and I felt he was drawing on more of his own experience for some of this story making it more real and natural. And there are a few personal points included in it quite by chance that mean nothing to anyone other than me which will make me return to this particular novel again and again.
The story itself draws on the legend of the holy grail and man's quest to own it and the shocking price to pay for being involved with it, rather reminiscent of the Indiana Jones film. The irreverent character of Robin Hood saves the day, not without some casualties, and touches of ruthlessness shown towards the reader.
All in all a great, fun read with plenty of action and emotion, twists and turns, lovable characters, hateful characters, and the darling Tronc. More of him please, in the next one!
The next in the series is going to be a right humdinger of a read and I am so looking forward to it.
I wondered how Angus Donald was going to continue the outlaw chronicles, now that the wars between the French and English Kings were over, with John having lost both Normandy and Anjou. Our heroes (Allen Dale, the narrator, but also Robin Hood and his band) were clearly not going to serve the new King.
The trick here has been to come up with a quest for the Holy Grail, as announced in Warlord (volume 4 of the series). This pits the little band of Companions against the "Master", a renegade, evil, charismatic and heretic Templar whom readers of the previous volume will have come across already. He has the relic, has gathered a bunch of followers around him and has taken refuge in a hardly accessible castle.
As another reviewer mentioned, there was a high risk for Angus Donald to serve us a collection of clichés with such a story. He has mostly avoided it and come up with yet another "good romp" and adventure story, with plenty of fights all along the way. This is where, unfortunately, I has a bit of a problem because the author managed to stretch credulity to breaking point. Unlike the previous instalments, I got the feeling that most of these fights were simply "overdone" and not very plausible.
At one point, two of our "heroes" mounted on poor quality horses attack five veteran mercenaries in an attempt to kill their captain. They succeed, rather incredibly. One of them is badly wounded in the leg but will nevertheless continue with some hard riding a couple of days later with the rest of his companions.
Four other hard fights take place. In most of them, our bunch of heroes, reinforced by mercenaries, but heavily outnumbered and in rather disadvantageous positions, manage to win, of course. In one case, despite being wounded by a dagger in his calf, one of our heroes not only keeps on fighting and takes a key part in the following fights but also goes climbing up and down a very steep hill in all his battle gear (chainmail, shield and all) and even climbs up and is among the first of the castle's walls.
Having mentioned this, the author does however come up with some nice twists, using historical events, and what was deemed to have happened, to fit his plot. The mercenary captain I alluded to above was murdered by a mercenary belonging to another company but Angus Donald makes this into a cover-up story. The description of Toulouse in 1200 is also rather good, including that of the power held by the city's Consuls. The introduction of the historical and young Raymond-Roger Trencavel, the most powerful vassal of the Count of Toulouse (and his relative) and who would be the first adversary and victim of the Albigeois Crusade nine years after was also a nice touch.
You also get a fair bit of drama: not all of Robin's and Allan's companions make it alive and Allan, despite surviving against the odds, is afflicted by personal tragedy. Also, Allan's conflict with his former lover evolves in a rather unexpected way. As for the Holy Grail, I will not tell you what happens to it, but it is all very moral and surprisingly edifying, especially coming from a rogue like the Robert of Locksley that Angus Donald depicts, although it is just about plausible.
So, while still good, this instalment is perhaps not as good as the previous one. Despite my gripes, I liked it, so four stars, but not five.
on 3 August 2015
In this, this fifth installment of The Outlaw Chronicles, and as the title implies, Robin and friends are on a quest to capture the Holy Grail. The motives for the companions in this quest vary from member to member, from the pure joy of beholding The Cup Of Christ, to the desperate need to use it and it's rumored healing powers, and even to others who seek it only for the power it bestows on the owner. As in the previous volumes of this series, the author spins a wonderful tale full of visceral action and cunning intrigue. All of the usual suspects of Robin's gang are part of the quest along with Sir Nicholas de Scras and a surprise guest who shall remain nameless by this humble scribe. Indeed, there are a few surprises in store not only character wise, but plot wise as well. I will not reveal the author's vision or description of the Grail though I will remark that I think he is correct. As in any tale of the Grail there is the risk of it being fanciful as in The Da Vinci Code or an even more fancy tale as in Monty Python and The Holy Grail - alas no one shouts down from a castle rampart about elderberries and hamsters. :-) The author plays it out in a most agreeable fashion keeping the tale reasonable and yet still conveying the medieval longing for sacred relics be they real or not. 4 stars
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Grail Knight Angus Donald Hardcover Edition
It is not very often that sequel novels are this good but happily that can be said for Angus Donald's Outlaw series. The ongoing saga gets better with each volume. My wife now orders me the new copy each time one is announced as a Christmas gift.
I have been a avid collector of anything to do with Robin Hood since boyhood in the 1950s particularly books and films and have purchased and read every novel that I have come across with a connection to the legendary English hero. Mr. Donald has not just revisited the traditional Robin Hood stories has built a new very carefully crafted tale which is firmly rooted in historical reality, the story of what a real outlaw hero might have been like as seen from the perspective of his companion Alan a'Dale. This Robin is far from the Hollywood image of a whiter than white fighter for Saxon rights, he is a flawed character, sometimes less than likeable, always mercenary, and totally untrustworthy but is painted as a real person that fits well into his era.
The book is packed with action, well written battles and a plot that snakes around to encompass the key historical actions that made up the turbulent reign of John Lackland.
on 19 September 2013
I rarely give a rating of 5 for any book as I tend to find a portion not ideal to my comprehension or taste, But The Grail Knight would in my view score a 6 star rating, if it were possible It is absolutely fabulous, right from the first to the last page. In many historical fiction books, the main character or characters go through the motions of preparing for the main event, usually a battle, siege or duel. However, this has everything; loyalty, fellowship, adventure, heroism, valour, drama, revenge, history, battle, siege, legend, myth ....all very well combined to give an exceptional read. IMO it is my favourite of the five Warlord novels and I can't wait until the next part.
When I started reading Angus Donald's books I was very sceptical about the whole cliche surrounding the Robin Hood storyline, but I was so pleasantly surprised at the way the author has written this saga accross 5 volumes so far, may there be a few more. I do hope once this series is finally concluded, Angus selects another historical genre and provides an equally sensational read.
on 6 September 2013
The latest book in The Outlaw Chronicles,is a great read. As with the others in the series I couldn't put this down. We rejoin Alan, Robin and a host of other favourite well known characters to continue the story with "The Companions" on a hunt for the Holy Grail, it was an inspiration to weave two well known legends (Robin Hood and the Grail) together in the story,and it works really well. I thought this installment contained more twists and surprises than any of the others which made it, for me, that bit different.
Without wishing to spoil the story, sadly we lose some of the old favourites in this book. And look out for a revelation about Little John - all I can say is that he should be really grateful there was no tabloid press around in those days! The twist at the end of the book is quite a surprise. Fast moving action, a real page turner.
Another thrilling installment from Angus Donald - well done!
on 12 May 2014
Angus Donald continues the gripping saga of Robin Hood and his band of not so very merry men, this series tells the story as would would have been , not all pretty maidens and green tights, the sights ,sounds ,and even the smells are brought to life by Mr Donald, the true meaning of loyalty and the horrors of the days of the crusades have already been covered in previous novels now we travel further down through story of Robin ,I will not go into detail about this book I do not want to spoil the story for any one ,but if you have read the earlier books you need to buy this one the action just gets better and better.If you are an avid fan of Mr Bernard Cornwell you need to check out this author and this series of books ,he will blow your mind...
The fifth novel in Angus Donald's superb series of Outlaw Chronicles powerfully mixes medieval legend and history in a brutal, bloody stew of warfare, vendetta, feudalism and fanaticism. Moving between the outlaws' Sherwood lair and the heretical castles of southern France, Grail Knight brings alive the months following Richard the Lionheart's death in 1199, written from the perspective of Sir Alan Dale, a young knight in the service of Robin of Loxley, otherwise known as the much feared Robin Hood.
While I would suggest that you read the Outlaw Chronicles in order, beginning with Outlaw (Outlaw Chronicles), it is possible to read each as a standalone novel. However, Grail Knight benefits enormously from a read of the previous novels, not least because it marks a turning point in some of their themes and stories. As a result, don't read this if you don't want to know what happened before to Alan and Robin.
One strength of the series is that each of the novels is very different - battling for survival in Sherwood Forest, going on Crusade, following the trail of the captive Richard the Lionheart into Germany and Austria and, in Warlord, the previous novel, to war with France. Warlord introduced the charismatic and powerful symbol of the Holy Grail, the quest of knights of legend, and it forms the focus of Grail Knight. Facing new and old enemies, Alan and Robin set out to find the Grail's hiding place in the heartland of the Cathars in southern France. The Companion of Grail Knights they lead is a mixed bunch indeed. Each has his (or her) own motive for finding the Grail but despite the tension that this causes they also uphold, rather against character in some cases, the chivalric code of honour that seekers of the Grail are required to achieve in order to succeed in their quest. Religious purity or even Christianity, though, has very little to do with it. This is Robin Hood after all, a man with his own legend built around him with its touches of paganism and Green Man of the woods.
Despite the light promised by the Grail, this is a dark and dangerous world and this atmosphere is conveyed perfectly by Angus Donald, here just as in the earlier novels. Menace hangs over Sir Alan's household in the ghastly form of Nur and now this comes to a head. Also, we continue to see both the best and the worst of the Knights Templar and Hospitaller. With the Lionheart dead and war with France paused, many knights in England and on the continent are leaderless and in pursuit of their own goals. Perhaps more than the other novels, Grail Knight demonstrates the fragility of life - the safety line is cut and we can't expect all to survive the hunt for the Grail. As a result, the novel both thrills and shocks. It is also violent and horrific in places. This Robin has not been sanitised by Hollywood. The style of the narrative, written as if in hindsight, adds an atmosphere of foreboding. Everyone the old Alan mentions is very much painted with the past tense.
I have loved each one of the Outlaw Chronicles and I am continually astonished by the course that we are led on. Alan is a finely developed, knowable character while Robin is an intriguing shadowed figure, much more difficult to know. Little John and Friar Tuck both get a makeover and are very surprising. The repercussions of Grail Knight linger in the mind and without doubt it is every bit as good and unputdownable as its excellent predecessor Warlord (Outlaw Chronicles). Above all else, Grail Knight is a superb, thoroughly entertaining adventure story and a fine addition to a fabulous series. I've grateful for the review copy.