Sunday, 11 August 2013

Getting Real at Acre: TEMPLAR'S ACRE by Michael Jecks

Templar's Acre by Michael Jecks
Anyone who writes reviews for a review site or their blog knows that feeling when you sit down to write and your fingers sit on the keys motionless. You write a few words. Erase them. Try again. Erase them. It is a dance I am sure the writer of novels knows only too well, especially when things are not so straight forward, and reviewers who want to write about the books they read are no different. It is a dance and I was in it when I sat down to write about Templar's Acre.

When a story, or in this case a review, is not an easy do - as in, there are some contrary and not so straight forward opinions to share – things get tough. With this book most of those opinions are positive and worthy of some wordy salutes and yet I have some gentle critique to give too. The review requires thought and so my fingers wavered and my mind stalled and the dance began.

So, how should it evolve? This contrary review. I gave the book 4 stars out of 5, not 5 out of 5. Which foot should I put forward first then? The negative that made the book lose a star from me? Or the positive that gave it a bountiful four?
As my fingers waver again, I think I need to put my negative foot forward in this dance and whirl of words and imagination. The reason I dropped a star.

I enjoyed the book. Enjoyed it from the beginning, but it had its ups and downs for me at first.
Michael Jecks begins the book on a high seas journey to the Holy Land with our main character Baldwin de Furnshill, who is the son of a Knight and “A man of honour and trained in the sword”.
In time, he will become familiar to you as Sir Baldwin de Furnshill, one of two main characters in Michael Jecks' 31 book mystery series, A Knights Templar Mystery. Only this one, Templar's Acre, is a prequel to that entire series. Technically it is book 32, but is a spin off of sorts called A Knights Templar Adventure and it is the most recent released to date.

So he is not Sir Baldwin the stoic and war weary character of the Knights Templar Mystery series. He is a different man, his younger, unexplored self, a youthful Baldwin the Pilgrim. And in 1290AD he is on a sea journey and under attack by Genoese pirates.

It was a fantastic kicking off point and I instantly knew that I was going to like this book. I just had to, once we got away from the sea battle and off the boat, get passed some Holy Land character set ups and scene creation that failed to really draw me in. The characters were not very exciting at that stage and there was a very mild love story that I felt nothing for. To this reader, that love story felt forced and disconnected. Included just to make an extra plotline. It improved for me later in the book, but I could have done without that storyline altogether. Others will disagree, but that was how I felt.

And then it happened. The Siege of Acre. And what a beast it was. It caught me off guard, in fact. I was kind of reading along, liking but not loving the book, and then some momentum started to build. Things started to happen. Scenes and plotlines locked into place. The book began to pull together. The characters came into their own and by the time Qalawun, then in turn Khalil, and the Muslim army marched upon Acre my eyes were wide and my pulse was actually racing.

I stood on the walls with Baldwin and the defenders of the city as they watched the Muslim army, strengthened by Egyptians and Syrians, gather and raise their siege machines across the rugged Levant landscapes beyond the confines of Acre. Here was an army well versed in siege warfare, who had taken Tripoli by siege not long before. They were driven by revenge and a passion to repel the Crusaders from the Kingdom of Jerusalem and so they built their machines, their catapults and mangonels, and they planned their deadly strikes with precision.
Men on foot and on horse back, moving about and forming up in greater numbers than the defenders of Acre could ever have dreamed of and when those mighty siege machines swung back and released upon the walls and towers of the city, Baldwin stood - I stood - watching them, feeling the thud and quake run through the stone and our bodies as they smashed and pummeled the gigantic walls of Acre to dust and rubble. Crushing the defenders, tearing the town apart from the inside out and burning its inhabitants alive with their barrage of Greek fire.

Now things were getting interesting.
Now we had ourselves a book.

If you know your history of the Fall of Acre, the last major stronghold of the Crusaders, then you know what was to eventually happen. The outcome of this battle is not written by Michael Jecks, it is written by history and the author needed only do what he knows he must. Place his characters across the battlefield in our mind's eye and hope we can see what he saw as he laid it out for us. For this reader, I believe he managed it. He harvested his years of experience as a writer, dosed it with his experience with research and threw it out across the page like the artisan of historical fiction that he is.

That was why I gave this book four stars. I took one away for the part that left me unmoved and gave him four for the craft I saw in this fictional version of the real life battle of Acre.
When I closed up the book I had one train of thought that I remember repeating to myself several times.

Write more of this, Michael Jecks. Write more of this.
Find yourself another field of play and another collection of set pieces and write more of this.

- MM

I did an interview with Michael Jecks on this blog when Templar's Acre was released, in which he speaks of the book.

I received my copy of Templar's Acre for reading and reviewing from Simon & Schuster Australia.
Boy, am I grateful they sent me a review copy or I may have put off reading this book for goodness knows how long.
A big thanks to them for the great read.


  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

  2. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.