Requiem (Brethren Trilogy) by Robyn Young
|Requiem (Brethren Trilogy) by Robyn Young|
|Genre: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Simon Regan|
|Summary: Self-assured if slightly slow-paced, this final volume in the semi-historical Brethren trilogy depicts the fall of the Templars with suspenseful battle scenes, believable political shenanigans, and superb attention to detail. Overall a solid, emotionally mature work – if at times a little overwhelmed by its own lengthy backstory.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 672||Date: September 2009|
|Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks|
It's December 1295, and the bedraggled remnants of the Third Crusade are returning home. Not all have given up the dream of a Christian Jerusalem, and Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master of the Templars, is eager to find patrons to fund a fresh invasion. But the West has turned inward, and, with the Order's reason for existence vanished with the Crusader states, factions within both the English and French courts covet the wealth and military might of the Temple. With his homeland of Scotland under assault by his old rival Edward, and his position usurped by former comrades who wish to turn the Order to sinister ends, peace for series protagonist Will Campbell seems far away.
In the last instalment in her Brethren trilogy, Robyn Young has finally caught up to her original inspiration for the epic – the trial and downfall of the richest and most powerful religious order in Europe. With this final volume spanning nineteen years, Young has a lot of ground to cover, and the method she has chosen to accomplish this is to split the narrative into discreet vignettes, separated by months or even years. The effect is evocative, but can also be somewhat disorientating, particularly where the author skips over, for example, an extended campaign or important piece of character development, only to introduce them to us for the first time through recollection.
As the final book in a trilogy, Requiem references a good deal of information from Brethren and Crusade. It's definitely possible to read Requiem as a standalone volume – especially given that it deals with the best-known and most iconic of the events covered by the trilogy – but Will Campbell has had a long and eventful career, and Young must inevitably make a number of tangents to remind us of what has gone before. This results in the first half of the novel taking on a rather introspective tone – not a fatal flaw, but possibly a disappointment for those expecting a more energetic conclusion to the Brethren saga.
To ensure the narrative develops naturally around her own characters, Young has been obliged to make a number of changes to the chronology. Historical figures are moved from one side of the country to another, or events brought forward to add dramatic tension and suggest a connection to the clandestine machinations that form the underlying structure of her plot. For the purists, Young includes an afterword outlining exactly what's been changed and her justifications for doing so. In general Requiem feels very solid as historical fiction – Young has done the research, and it shows in the everyday activities of her cast, the amount of time needed to travel from place to place, and the financial and logistical considerations involved in raising and sustaining large armies (something all too often forgotten by authors writing in a medieval setting).
Although Young is not a military historian, her battle scenes are suspenseful and successfully capture both the frenzied bloodshed of the front lines and the impersonal strategic perspective of the generals on the top of the hill. Individual fight scenes also impress with their often quite gruesome clarity – combat as portrayed by Young is fast, brutal, and grittily realistic. One thing I would have liked to see is a little more variation in the fighting styles of the warriors in Requiem: Will is no longer a young man, and it would have been nice to see that more frequently reflected in his approach to combat.
The scheming and political manoeuvring which must necessarily form a large part of any novel concerning the plot against the Templars is kept clear and understandable. Oddly, the mystical side of the Templars – the secret brotherhood of the Anima Templi – receives far less attention than in the previous novels, with the focus instead shifting to the power politics of the time, such as King Philippe's attempt to secure a tractable pope to help him move against the Order.
Young's major historical antagonists are vividly drawn, and manage to be despicable whilst still having underlying motivations which make sense in their world. Where the author is obliged to manufacture the motives of lesser ne'er-do-wells – for instance in the case of Philippe's conniving counsellor Guillaume de Nogaret – there is a tendency towards the melodramatic, though they remain enjoyable foils for Will and his comrades.
Overall, despite a number of minor flaws, Requiem is a solid offering, providing a satisfying conclusion to the story of Will Campbell and the Knights Templar. If you're new to the series, it's perhaps not the best place to jump in, but remains very readable, and as a slice of superbly-researched medieval intrigue comes highly recommended.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
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