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You can have too much of a not very good thing
on 1 April 2017
This is not an easy book to review because it pulls me in two directions: first, it’s a strong story-line, and it would be hard to go wrong with the story of the struggle and ultimate defeat of the Knights Templar in the Holy Land. Lots of strong characters are involved, and there’s enough action to keep any “Boys’ Own Yarn” fan happy. I can’t say that I found the hero Honfroy particularly convincing, or admirable, as he kills and shags his way through pretty much every one he meets, and the transition from the aspirant Templar of the title to some kind of monk to warlord is all a bit fuzzy. I didn’t feel there was any believable development of character - but perhaps that is not surprising since, quite incredibly, our hero is still only 18 by the end of the book. No doubt people grew up faster in such rough times, but even so, it’s a bit far-fetched. Another reviewer compared him with Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe, but that is wrong - Sharpe is much too ubiquitous in every single action of the Napoleonic Wars to be genuine, but he is undoubtedly drawn as a real and convincing person whose steady progress to maturity and senior rank is properly considered. (Actually, Honfroy would be closer in attitude to Cornwell’s Uhtred, in the Saxon Chronicles.) But the narrative of this book does drive along, and it’s certainly a page-turner, so forget your incredulity and enjoy the story.
If, that is, you can put up with the absolutely appalling English (and indeed, random bits of other languages). It is astonishing that an author who has clearly done a lot of historical research and can correctly use really obscure words like “lamellar” cannot, as it seems, write decent, grammatical English. He doesn’t know the difference between “I” and “me”, he doesn’t know the difference between “may” and “might”, he thinks ‘reticent’ means ‘reluctant’ - oh, the list is practically endless. Nor must I allow myself to forget the many appearance’s of greengrocer’s apostrophe’s. I reckon Uhtred of Bebbanburg writes better English than this, and he’s a Saxon.
What is really worrying is that right at the end of the book, in an Afterword, the author comments that readers of the first edition complained about his grammar, so he got a chap at Daisy Bank Editing to proof-read the second edition. All I can say is that the result is by far the most disgraceful exhibition of editorial illiteracy that I have ever come across.
It’s no better in other languages either. Apparently “Deus le volt” is supposed to be French for ‘As God wills’. Deus is Latin, le is French (got that bit right, anyway), and volt is wrong. And what on earth are we to make of the oft-repeated “A vous, douce Debonaire, aim on cuer donne. Ja n’en partire”? This is supposed to mean “I have given my heart to you, my sweet and gentle love. I shall never take it from you.” I suppose it could be (supposed to be) Frankish, which I admittedly don’t speak, but I somehow doubt it. As a love-phrase, “À toi” would surely better than “À vous”; the word “douce” is feminine, and should be ‘doux’ when applied to a masculine noun; perhaps fortunately in this context, therefore, the word “Debonaire” does not exist, but its correct form “débonnaire” is an adjective not a noun. We can reconstruct the next bit as “j’ai mon coeur donné”, and the final sentence as “Je n’en partirai pas”. “Partir en [e.g. avion]” normally means ‘to go away in [an aeroplane]’. There are a couple of words in French that mean ‘to take away from’, such as ‘emmener de’, ‘enlever de’, but I’m blowed if I can find ‘partir’ used like this. I know all this is pernickerty and pedantic, but my view is that if you’re going to use a foreign language in a book you should take the trouble to get it right. Everybody knows somebody who speaks French . . . well, better French than this, anyway!
I don’t speak Arabic, but words like “feranj” look pretty ropey to me, and “Is-salaam alleekum” certainly isn’t how this phrase is usually spelled.
Actually, stop - two minutes of simple research in that hugely reliable source Wikipedia indicates that ‘ferenji or ‘faranji’ is indeed Arabic for foreigner’, and ‘farangi’ or ‘firang’ is “a term for foreigners in Persian, possibly linked to the Franks”, which is very persuasive in this context. Possibly it is a bastard version of ‘foreigner’, perhaps like ‘ferengi’ in Star Trek. So if it's meant to be Arabic why not spell it correctly?
In summary, if you are happy to ignore all the sort of thing that makes me whinge as above, and just want something exciting to read on the beach this summer, go for it. But I for one won’t be buying volumes 2, 3 & 4 in the series. Forgive me, Delilah, I just couldn’t take any more.