Book Corner: The Winter Knight by SJA Turney

A murder in a far off castle. A deadly struggle to survive… An intense and gripping Medieval thriller.

In the depths of winter at an ancient German castle, high up in the mountains, a noble is found dead under mysterious circumstances.

Back at Rourell, Arnau is taking on the responsibilities of a full Templar Knight. But when he is tasked with returning Brother Lütolf’s papers to settle a legal dispute between his family and the Order, Arnau is unexpectedly drawn into the killing at the castle. Here he enters a dark game of knives and double-crosses.

Trapped in the ice-bound fortress, mastery of the sword is no longer enough. This is a different kind of war: one of shadows and whispered threats. Arnau must use all the guile he possesses, or risk succumbing to an icy tomb.

The Winter Knight is the fourth adventure of Arnaud Vallbona in SJA Turney‘s wonderful Knights Templar series. Each story in this series is unique and focuses on the experiences or life of the individual brothers of the preceptory at Rourell in Spain. The first book, Daughter of War, dealt with the very survival of the preceptory itself and its indomitable ruler, Ermengarde; a female preceptrix of the Knights Templar. And while the second book, The Last Emir, saw Arnaud hunting for relics, the third sent him east, to Byzantium and the Fourth Crusade.

The Winter Knight once more sends Arnaud on his travels, this time to the home of his former mentor, Brother Lutolf, in Germany. And to an altogether different adventure. Rather than a tale of war and destruction, The Winter Knight is a totally gripping murder mystery set among the chilly atmosphere of a German castle, or schloss, in the depths of winter.

‘”But if thou doest evil, dread thou; for not without cause he beareth the sword, for he is the minister of God, venger into wrath to him that doeth evil.” Romans thirteen. The Lord reminds us that the ministers of God are the agents of his vengeance, bringing the sword to evildoers.’

Felipe frowned. ‘You don’t mean …’

Arnau sighed. ‘It is, in one very important way, none of our business. But as warriors of His Church, it is in another way our business above all others. The word of the Book should always take precedence over temporal matters, Felipe.’

‘Interference might not be popular, Brother Arnau. I do not think they like us.’

‘They do not have to like us. Just to respect our authority within the Church. It might be a matter of duty that we apprehend the evildoer and visit divine judgement upon him.’

Felipe joined in the shivers now. ‘Be careful, Brother Arnau.’ He tapped his precious book of the Rule. ‘”Every brother of the Temple should be believed to the benefit of the Temple and our house, and the brother should be careful what he takes upon himself, for if the thing is not as he says, he should be judged to have committed a fault.” Rule 150.’

Arnau turned back to the window. Beneath that canopy and the ever-present snow, the dark circle of the well seemed to be taunting him, sneering that it had eaten the young lord who was the very reason for their visit. He clenched his teeth. ‘I can live with committing a fault, but whoever cut an innocent man’s throat and attempted to hide the body in such a despicable way? He deserves the vengeance of the Lord.’

His eyes rose to the apartments opposite, just in time to see a hooded figure in one of the windows looking straight across the courtyard at him, then disappearing within and slamming the shutters tight.

SJA Turney fills each page with an atmosphere of suspense and intrigue that is hard to escape, even after the book is finished. The clever plot, beautiful and desolate snowy countryside and wonderful, diverse characters have the reader intrigued from the very first page – the opening scenes being the grisly murder itself!

As I have come to expect with SJA Turney, the research is impeccable. From the Templar Rule, through the German weather and the bleak and imposing castle, down to the language and customs of the time, the author has recreated medieval Germany in great detail, even down to the German mindset, their distrust of foreign military orders and the political machinations of the time.

Arnau de Vallbona is a wonderful lead character, and it has been a pleasure to watch him grow and mature over the 4 books, from an immature novice to a full-fledged knight of the Order, having grown in confidence and ability. However, he is no knightly paragon and it is fascinating to watch his struggles with his Order’s rules, with a little flirtation with Brother Lutolf’s sister, and his responsibilities, in searching for the murderer, supervising his squire and looking after Templar interests in the face of a grieving family.

As a murder mystery, The Winter Knight is impressive. Even looking at it with a critical eye, the plot is cleverly woven into the story, drawing on legend, human emotions and the worst of humanity to leave the reader guessing at the identity of the murder until the full extent of his crimes is revealed to the reader.

Despite being the fourth book in a series, The Winter Knight has a unique quality in that it is entirely readable and entertaining as a standalone. At no point does the reader feel that they are missing a part of the story as a result of not having read the previous 3 books. Although, as someone who has read and devoured them all, I highly recommend the entire series.

With The Winter Knight, SJA Turney has again shown his versatility as a writer in this thoroughly absorbing and entertaining novel. I can’t wait for the next instalment!

About the Author:

Simon lives with his wife, children and dogs in rural North Yorkshire. Having spent much of his childhood visiting historic sites with his grandfather, a local photographer, Simon fell in love with the Roman heritage of the region, beginning with the world famous Hadrian’s Wall. His fascination with the ancient world snowballed from there with great interest in Egypt, Greece and Byzantium, though his focus has always been Rome. A born and bred Yorkshireman with a love of country, history and architecture, Simon spends most of his rare free time travelling the world visiting historic sites, writing, researching the ancient world and reading voraciously.

Simon’s early career meandered along an arcane and eclectic path of everything from the Ministry of Agriculture to computer network management before finally settling back into the ancient world. During those varied years, Simon returned to university study to complete an honours degree in classical history through the Open University. With what spare time he had available and a rekindled love of all things Roman, he set off on an epic journey to turn Caesar’s Gallic War diaries into a novel accessible to all. The first volume of Marius’ Mules was completed in 2003 and has garnered international success, bestseller status and rave reviews, spawning numerous sequels. Marius’ Mules is still one of Simon’s core series and although Roman fiction features highly he now has Byzantine, Fantasy and Medieval series, too, as well as several collaborations and short stories in other genres.

Now, with in excess of 25 novels available and 5 awaiting release, Simon is a prolific writer, spanning genres and eras and releasing novels both independently and through renowned publishers including Canelo and Orion. Simon writes full time and is represented by MMB Creative literary agents.

Look out for Roman military novels featuring Caesar’s Gallic Wars in the form of the bestselling Marius’ Mules series, Roman thrillers in the Praetorian series, set during the troubled reign of Commodus, adventures around the 15th century Mediterranean world in the Ottoman Cycle, and a series of Historical Fantasy novels with a Roman flavour called the Tales of the Empire.

*

My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

*

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Leper King by Scott R Rezer

srrKing of Jherusalem and Defender of the Holy Sepulcher, Baldwin walks the sword’s edge between the quarreling barons of his Court and the jihad of Islam. Between the two, however, a sinister presence lurks—a cabal of heretics who will stop at nothing to see its dark designs come to fruition. Baldwin is young, courageous, and a leper. In the midst of mounting political tensions and war, a beautiful woman befriends the lonely sick king—a woman who claims she is an immortal saint.

The Leper King is the 1st in Scott R. Rezer’s The Magdalen Cycle series of novels. Last year I read The Pawns of Sion, the sequel to The Leper King, for The Review, and thoroughly enjoyed it. So, when I was given the opportunity to read the story from the beginning, I jumped at the chance – and was far from disappointed. Luckily both books work well as standalone stories; they have the common theme running through the series, but you certainly do not have to read them in order. They are fantastic stories set around the Crusader Kingdom of the 12th century, combining fabulous adventure, war and intrigue with a wonderful touch of the mystic and magic.

Coronation_Baldwin_IV
Coronation of Baldwin IV

The Leper King has everything; love, betrayal, the Knights Templar, heroes and heroines, Mary Magdalen ….. and the mysterious, dangerous Order of Sion which has its own personal agenda and is determined to bend the Kingdom of Jerusalem to its own will.

The fight for good versus evil is cleverly woven into the historical story of the survival of the western Crusader kingdoms against the Muslim onslaught. The individual stories of love and ambition within the royal family are set against the needs of the kingdom and the machinations of the great nobles. Murder and revenge, love and betrayal, magic and history; all go into making this novel a unique and enthralling story.

William sensed her before he saw her: a prickling of the sense like a cool draft through a chink in the chancellery door….The chapel lay dimly lit. She stood in the midst of it, all in white and gold, bathed in the soft glow of the candlelight.

“When you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen  do: for they think they will be heard for their many words,” she said, throwing the words of the Christ in his face with a sly, wicked smile.

She was often that way with him: taunting and playful, annoyingly forthright. “You told him you were the Magdalen.” he said, ignoring her acerbic remark.

She laughed suddenly, musically. “You make it sound as though I were lying.”

He narrowed his gaze. He was in no mood for her playfulness. “Did you tell him all of it?”

Amaurydeath-BaldwinIVcrowned-full
Death of King Amaury and Coronation of Baldwin

Her levity dissipated like a vapor. In her anger, she was a fearful presence, terrible to behold. Candlelight and shadows were unkind to her unnatural beauty. “He is a boy, even if he is a king,” she said, taking a menacing step towards him. “I will tell him when he can best handle it – when he decides that what I’ve already told him is true.”

The hero of the novel is Baldwin IV, King of Jerusalem; he was only 13 on his accession to the throne and already suffering from the effects of leprosy. Baldwin struggles to keep his lords united while fighting against the mystical forces of evil. His strength of character and determination hold his kingdom together while he is faced with 2 implacable foes; the secret cabal that is the Order of Sion from within and the man who was, arguably, the Muslim’s greatest ever warrior – Salah ad-Din – from without.

Scott R Rezer’s characters are well researched and brought to life in wonderfully vivid; they are exciting, glamorous and mysterious. He demonstrates an understanding of the needs, desires and mentality of the major players in 12th century Outremer. The story of magic, Mary Magdalen and the fight between good and evil slip easily into the great landscape of the Holy Land and serves to highlight that the actions of the individual protagonists come together to make the greater story of the Crusader Kingdoms, and the fight for survival.

the descriptions of Biblical locations, of battles fought and sumptuous, exotic palaces, bring the 12th century Holy Land to life.

British Library - Yt 12 152v
The discovery of Baldwin’s leprosy

There are some very nice little touches in the book, which help to give it an individuality, such as the use of native names for locations, depending on who is talking. To the Muslims, Jerusalem is known as Urshalim, while to the Crusaders, it is known as Jherusalem. In much the same way as the language, the author looks at the struggle in the Holy Land from both sides, Muslim and Christian, even demonstrating how both rulers, Baldwin and Saladin, are faced with advisers bent on revenge or peace, depending on their personal experiences with their foes.

The many strands of the story are brought together for a thrilling climax of action and magic, that leaves you elated and bereft at the same time. It is a wonderful blend of history and fiction, drawing you into Baldwin’s world and the tensions with which the Holy Land was beset. The dual story of the eternal battle of good versus evil cleverly mirrors the history of the  Crusades themselves and the battle of Christian against Muslim.

The novel keeps you entertained and on the edge of your seat throughout. It is unique, thought-provoking, fascinating and intriguing; evoking a multitude of emotions. In short, it is a great read and I look forward to reading and reviewing Book 3.

*

My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.