The Temple and the Crown
by Katherine Kurtz, Deborah Turner Harris
Mass Market Paperback - 560 pages (April 2001)
Warner Books; ISBN: 0446608548
Review by EJ McClure

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Fans of THE CROWN AND THE STONE will be delighted to discover that Kurtz and Harris have banged out another fast-paced adventure story set in the Scotland of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. But not a Scotland either hero would have recognized, for in this alternate reality, the magic is real.

Robert the Bruce's struggle against Edward I of England to win Scottish independence is historical fact. Kurtz and Harris use that grand drama as a backdrop for their tale of the battle of the Knight's Templar to erect the mystical Fifth Temple that will anchor the forces of Light in Scottish soil. With the loss of Jerusalem, and their other strongholds in the Holy Land, the Templars have been forced to move the sacred Treasures they guard, treasures like the Seal of Solomon, and the Urim and Thummin of the High Priest's breastplate. Treasures the Knights of the Black Swan want to seize for their own nefarious purposes.

Under the leadership of the evil Guillaume de Nogaret, Philip IV of France's principal minister, the Decuria of black alchemists succeed in manipulating the Pope into abolishing the order of the Templars. Bartholeme de Challon, Nogaret's ambitious disciple, insinuates himself into King Edward's court and befriends the gullible and weak-willed Crown Prince, then uses his influence to persuade Edward to renew the campaign against Scotland.

Robert the Bruce suffers one setback after another. Ambush and defeat at Methven. The capture of his wife and sister-in-law. The murder of his brothers. Debilitating illness. Those not familiar with Scottish history from 1306-1314 may need to keep a score card to keep track of the dire consequences of loyalty to the Bruce cause, but since most of the large and interchangeable cast of characters don't stay on stage long enough to emotionally engage the readers, their off-stage deaths have little dramatic impact. The action is the thing, to secure the crown of the king.

Through it all Torquil and Arnault, veteran Templars, faithfully serve Robert the Bruce's cause. But there comes a time when a vision drives Arnault to abandon the Bruce for a quest of his own for a relic of the Tables of Law that to serve as a foundation for the Fifth Temple, a quest that takes him back to the Holy Land and into mortal peril that can only be averted by immortal help.

Readers of the Deryni series will realize that Kurtz is again drawing on her extensive knowledge of Celtic mythology and medieval history to create her world. This time she stirs some Judeo-Christian mysticism into the pot, and adds a dash of alchemy, with a pinch of necromancy for good measure.

Kurtz and Harris do a workmanlike job of moving their large cast through a complex series of interlocking plot lines. The frequent shift in point of view is another factor that keeps the reader from becoming deeply engaged in any one character's struggles, but it carries the action forward smartly. There is enough ritualistic magic to satisfy an avid gamer, and a judicious smattering of political intrigue and some lively battle scenes to spice up the sorcerous drama. Robert the Bruce's wife and kinswomen make a couple of cameo appearances, but to my disappointment, there were no substantial female characters in the book. To this complaint, Kurtz and Harris may successfully contend that they were being true to their historical context, in which women were pawns to be bartered for political gain, raped after conquest, and murdered with impunity.

While not filling fare, this rapid-paced tale of knightly quests and magical conflict is a yummy appetizer for readers of the sword-and-sorcery genre.