Written by Jordan Mechner
Drawn by LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland
The mysterious Knights Templar have been the subject of a lot of literary speculation thanks to the works of authors like Dan Brown, Raymond Khoury, and Steve Berry. Pile on movies like National Treasure and games like Assassin’s Creed and the Templar order develops a rich, enthralling mythology, even if most of it is baloney. With Templar, Jordan Mechner, LeUyen Pham, and Alex Puvilland include healthy amounts of theory and fiction, but all solidly grounded in historical fact. Or as close to historical fact as their research allows them to get.
The Templar knights were a real order of warriors who enlisted in the Crusades and accumulated a lot of wealth and power. So much wealth and power, in fact, that with the Crusades finished and no clear purpose for the knights, they became a threat to the king of France. Early in the fourteenth century, King Philip had most of the knights rounded up, arrested, and eventually tortured, tried, and burned at the stake. Most, but not all. Mechner learned that at least twelve Templars escaped, though only one of them was considered to be “a figure of any importance.” It’s around these forgotten men that Templar is built.
Against the background of the Templars’ real-life downfall, Templar follows a small group of low level knights as they escape arrest and try to figure out what to do next. Though themselves imaginary, these main characters interact with actual, historical figures like King Philip, his chief minister Guillame de Nogaret, and various religious leaders who participated in the Templars’ persecution. In this way, Templar has a lot in common with books like The Three Musketeers and it’s no less exciting to read. Mechner’s script is full of chases and fights, and while Pham and Puvilland have researched the look of everyday life in medieval France, they’re equally as strong in delivering action sequences that are thrilling and easy to follow.
That balance between historical faithfulness and rousing adventure applies to the story, too. Mechner credits Umberto Eco as an inspiration, but clearly Alexandre Dumas is as well. And once the main characters realize that the Templar treasure hasn’t yet been found by King Philip and is still hidden, waiting to be discovered and removed, the plot begins to incorporate elements of Indiana Jones and Ocean’s Eleven as well.
Of course, any story is only as powerful as its characters are real and Templar also succeeds in that area. The main focus in on a common and headstrong, but also honorable and resourceful, knight named Martin. He’s in love – but constantly butts heads – with an equally stubborn, much less common woman named Isabelle who also happens to be the sister of the guy in charge of the Templar hearings. As important as the treasure is, Martin and Isabelle’s relationship is just as captivating, especially when one of the other former knights begins taking an interest in Isabelle. Bernard isn’t as honorable as Martin, but he’s infinitely more open and available. It’s a tricky romantic triangle, but it works because Isabelle’s best choice isn’t obvious.
Add to that a couple of great villains in Nogaret and his spooky henchman, Captain Devoet and Templar has everything it needs to be an exciting story steeped in medieval history. Actual events may not have happened exactly this way, but unlike the way most Templar fiction works, they certainly feel like they could have.