The

Solomon's Thieves
Cover illustration
See permission.
The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

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Solomon's Thieves

by Jordan Mechner; illus. by LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland; color by Hilary Sycamore

If ever a man were cursed to “live in interesting times,” it is Martin of Troyes, member of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon (the Knights Templar) and protagonist of Mechner’s spirited graphic novel. The year is 1307, and France’s cash-strapped King Philip the Fair has identified a funding source for his current war
the Templars’ treasury near Paris. The problem is, the knights are answerable to no man but the pope, so the only way to shake the treasure loose is to discredit the entire order on grounds of heresy and take their worldly possessions into the king’s own safekeeping. Wily minister Guillaume de Nogaret engineers the scandal, backs the weak-willed pope into a political corner, conducts mass arrests, and extracts confessions under torture. Problem solved. Except, as Mechner posits, the treasure isn’t where Nogaret expects it to be, and a few Templars slip through his netamong them Martin, who just happens to be in the wrong, or perhaps the right, place on October 13, 1307, as the arrests begin.

When Martin spots Isabelle, the now-married love of his former life, on a Paris balcony, a pair of brother knights stage an evening of drunken consolation that culminates in Isabelle’s abduction, a wild, serio-comic chase by King Philip’s men, and a dunking in the Seine. The kidnapping may have misfired, but at least the trio is not on the Temple grounds when the king has the entire monastery arrested and taken away in chains. Martin offers to go in search of information while his friends lie low, but his trusted informant turns him over the inquisitors, and he makes an escape while being transferred to the torturers. Now on the run, Martin meets up with another knight, Bernard, and a priest, Brother Dominic, who have also eluded capture. Brother Dominic has accidentally intercepted a letter to the Templar Master in England, stating that the French treasure has been stashed in a secret location within the Temple itself, and a decoy of hay carts have misled soldiers into believing it’s been moved off the Temple premises. Martin and his new band of brothers realize that they are now in sole possession of this critical information, and they vow to track down the treasure and hold it insacred trust for their Order until the heat is off.

Mechner treats this historical adventure with a cinematic flair that is undoubtedly traceable to his screenwriting and game-development careers. A flashback from the Crusaders’ defeat at Acre opens the tale, contrasting the rampant brutality of the “Holy War” with the following scenes in Paris several years later, in which the once fearsome knights are now discouraged, discontented, and far too domesticated in this peacetime life. Mechner limns backroom cabal and mano a mano swordfights with equal ease, and he’s as adept with drunken banter as with diplomatic formality. Political background is smoothly incorporated in convincing dialogue as the renegade knights speculate on the arrests, royal and ecclesiastical retainers plot and jockey for power, and public proclamations attempt to sway popular opinion in King Philip’s favor. A substantial concluding note reveals Mechner to be an avid researcher of the period, engaged both in presenting a factual account of the power play between crown and papacy that brought down the Templars and in creating credible if imaginative characters based on records of the few knights who escaped the general round-up.

Illustrators Pham and Puvilland fairly revel in the medieval settings: dense forests in which a priest can overhear vital information while urinating against a tree; sheep pastures into which a trio of knights can pop out from an underground tunnel; roadways along which Philip’s men thunder on horseback; rural hamlets in which peasants hope to be left alone by their powerful betters. While paying exquisite attention to historical detail, the artists never lose sight of comic-book convention—Isabelle has the doe eyes, bee-stung lips, and exaggerated cleavage that would be very much at home in spandex, boots, and cape; realistic backgrounds occasionally give way to solid blocks of fiery color and bursts of rays at moments of strong emotion or violence; and of course “bam” and “krak” supply the requisite soundtrack for crossed swords and cracked heads.

YA readers who lamented that Catherine Jinks’ Pagan series had finally run its course might not think to look for a worthy successor in the graphic-novel section. Direct them there posthaste, and then begin the impatient wait for Volume Two.

Elizabeth Bush, Reviewer

 


Solomon's Thieves

Cover image from Solomon's Thieves ©2010 by LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland.  Used by permission of First Second Books.


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This page was last updated on July 1, 2010.