Top positive review
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on 11 August 2013
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.