Knights of the Black and White recounts the beginnings of the order. It's a tale about those nine penniless men who dug for years into the bowels of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and unearthed a treasure which allowed them to become the most influential force in Christendom for more than two centuries.
I really enjoyed how Whyte sets the stage at the start of the novel. Sir Hugh de Payens, a member of a secret society, learns the grave truth about the Order before being sent to fight in what history will remember as the First Crusade. But he emerges from the harrowing slaughter of Jerusalem as a broken man who has lost faith in his fellow knights.
Knights of the Black and White is an interesting blend of historical data and good storytelling. Anyone who has ever shown any interest in the Knights Templar should be pleased with the tale. Others might not find this book as appealing, however. . .
Whyte's narrative sets the mood, and his prose is evocative in a manner that creates the perfect imagery. There are a few info dumps along the way, most of them a necessary evil in a work such as this. What I found the most distracting was the author's tendency to switch from one POV character to the next in the same sequence, without even a break in the scene to signal a POV change.
The characterization is an aspect that leaves a little to be desired in some instances, and that was disappointing. Some characters are well-done; Hugh de Payens and Hassan the Shi'a come to mind. Yet others are clichéd and two-dimensional, characters such as Princess Alice, Brother Stephen St. Clair, and Bishop Odo.
Still, the storylines weave a satisfying tale, even though this first volume covers only the order's humble beginnings. It will be interesting to see where Jack Whyte takes his story in the sequel, Standard of Honor. Hopefully weak characterization will not put a damper on one's reading experience in the subsequent volumes.
As the opening chapter of a saga chronicling the birth and future destruction of an organization whose secrets echo down the centuries to tantalize us even today, Knights of the Black and White remains an entertaining read.
The final verdict: 7.25/10