The Holy Lance
by Andrew Latham
As I’ve noted before, (in my Day of Fire review) being an author has its perks. Sometimes I’m asked to review books before they’re available to buy and it’s really nice to read something before anyone else gets to see it. Andrew Latham, Professor of Political Science and reader of my own historical novels asked if I’d take a look at his debut The Holy Lance and, if I liked it, share my thoughts and maybe provide a strap-line for the cover.*
Now, it’s very flattering to be asked to critique someone’s work but sometimes it’s poor and it’s a chore to even finish it, never mind come up with an excuse not to review it. I’d rather not say anything than be hurtful after all.
I’m glad to report that, thankfully, Andrew Latham’s The Holy Lance didn’t need any excuses – it’s a damn good read!
A historical fiction adventure very much in the mould of Cornwell, Scarrow, Robyn Young et al, the book centres around a Templar Knight’s quest to retrieve a prized artefact: the titular holy lance. Michael Fitz Alan is an entertaining character, with all the leadership and martial qualities you hope for in a novel like this. Indeed, his violent exploits are often extremely visceral, with much blood spilled as he battles through the Holy Land on this, the first part of his quest.
The battle scenes really do stand out, being superbly written and bringing the action to vivid life in the reader’s imagination, but there’s more to the tale than just violence. Like Lord of the Rings, The Sword of Shannara or Bernard Cornwell’s 1356 our hero is after a powerful artefact that will turn the tide of war in his favour. Yes, it’s a theme that’s been explored many, many times over the years, but that’s because it’s a good theme!
The author doesn’t make everything as black-and-white as Tolkien’s hobbits vs orcs though. This isn’t a straight-forward tale of good versus evil – it’s sympathetic to both sides in the conflict which makes for a realistic and satisfying read.
Latham’s scholarship shines through in every page – indeed, I was writing my own Knight Hospitaller novella at the same time as I read this and I freely admit I learned a lot. Not only is it a great tale, you know the history has been thoroughly researched and, as in any top-class histfic title, it makes the book that much more enjoyable. It’s a balancing act between too much and not enough scholarship in this genre and The Holy Lance straddles the tightrope with ease.
If I have a criticism it’s the fact that the chapters are quite long, with the first being almost 10,000 words. Obviously, this is a matter of personal taste, but I like a short, punchy first chapter that starts things off with a bang and drags the reader in by the short and curlies, whether they like it or not. The Holy Lance doesn’t have that and, I have to be honest, I feared the worst when it took me so long to finish the first few pages. It could easily put readers off which would be a real shame as things picked up after that and I was relieved to find myself really enjoying the story.
I’m probably not the best person to ask for a review if you’re on a timetable as I don’t have much time to read these days, but I finished this in just a few days and am very much looking forward to the next one. Which will probably be strange for Professor Latham to read, given this one isn’t even out yet!
Histfic fans will really enjoy this and I’m proud to have been one of the first people to read it. The future promises much for Andrew Latham…be sure you’re there when his first novel hits the shelves on March 24th this year.
Pre-order your hardback copy here (UK)
or here (US)
Find out more at Andrew’s website:
* “Violent and visceral…. meticulously researched… superbly plotted…. The Holy Lance is historical fiction at its best!”