The Youngest Templar: Keeper of the Grail

Youngest Templar

Author: Michael Spradlin

Publication: Putnam, 2008

Pages: 272

Overall Rating:    bth_35_zps7a173504[1]                     

Rating for Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 9-12

Brief Summary:  Tristan is an orphan.  He was raised by monks and has no idea who his parents are, only that the note they left gives some indication that they were more than mere peasants.  His peaceful life comes to an end when a band of Templar knights stop at his abbey and one of the knights, Sir Thomas, invites Tristan to become a squire.  Tristan almost immediately makes an enemy of the head of the Templar regiment, Sir Hugh, and has several dangerous run-ins with him before they finally set sail for the Holy Land to take part in King Richard the Lionheart’s crusade.  When Tristan and Sir Thomas are trapped in the city of Acre just before it falls to the Saracens, Sir Thomas reveals that the Knights Templar are the guardians of the Holy Grail.  With the city about to fall, he entrusts the Grail to Tristan, ordering him to return it safely to a church in Scotland.  Now Tristan is on his own, thousands of miles from home and surrounded by enemies, charged with safeguarding the most important relic in Christiandom.

Age of Main Character: 14

What I Liked the Most: One of the keys to a good historical novel is making the setting feel authentic.  Spradlin manages to do just that, from the clothes, to the organization of the Templars everything rings true.   There was nothing to jar me out of the fantasy that I was in 12th century Arabia.

I like the job Spradlin does of providing Tristan with a band of loyal travelling companions.  Rather than just hooking him up with a couple of other squires, he mixes things up by giving Tristan a seasoned, if rather young, English soldier, and female Saracen surrounded by the just the right the aura of mystery.  It’s an odd mix, but the way Spradlin brings them together felt quite natural.

I also liked the fact that Tristan was not an instant action hero.  He’s brave right from the start, with a good heart and a strong sense of justice – giving him all the makings of a hero – but Spradlin never forgets that he was also raised in a monastery and in many ways is still very new to the world of war and adventure.  He’s got a lot to learn, and it’s fun to be at his side as he makes mistakes and learns how to survive in a sometimes harsh and brutal environment.

What I Liked the Least: The story somehow felt like it was missing the emotional spark it needed to make it truly memorable.   The setting is authentic, Tristan is a good and likeable character, the task set for him is enormous, and he’s got a good band of companions to walk by his side.  It was an enjoyable read, but there was never anything to get my blood pumping.  Sir Hugh was evil, but I’m not sure I ever truly felt Tristan’s fear in his presence.  The battle scenes were reasonably well executed, but again, I never felt the fear and adrenaline coursing through Tristan’s veins when he found himself surrounded by enemy soldiers.  In short, this was a fun story, but on an emotional and visceral level it never really drew me in.  Reading it was more of a surface experience.

How Good was the Action?  Fine.  The smaller battles and near brushes with death are well done, providing a good mix of blow-by-blow detail and large brush descriptions, but the big battles felt more distant and hollow.  And all the battles, big or small, could have benefited from more emotional intensity.  As it was, they well executed but there were very few times I actually felt scared for Tristan.

How Engaging was the Story?  This falls in line with most other aspects of the review.  Tristan is an interesting enough character and Spradlin has done a good job developing him from a young novice into a squire and, ultimately, into the keeper of the Holy Grail.  And he’s sprinkled in just enough references to the mystery of Tristan’s parents to really keep us guessing.  But, as with everything else, the writing lacked a true spark.  I enjoyed the story, but there wasn’t enough fuel on the emotional fire to keep me tearing through it.

Overall Assessment: This is a fun, reasonably accurate book about an interesting period in history.  It’s got just enough action to make it a good choice for reluctant readers and enough story and strong characters to make it appeal to a wider audience.  While it lacks the true emotional spark and vitality of a stand-out middle grade book, it still makes a great story – especially for readers who want a straight forward mix of history and action with few emotional tangles to get in the way.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: Some, but it’s fairly mild and not too graphic.  People do get beaten up and there are fights.  A couple of people are shot with arrows, but outside of one or two major battles no one dies, and even in those the violence is far from graphic.

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