Dark Knights of the Soul tells of a neo-Templar Order located on the Swiss/German border at the end of the 20th century. The public image they project is of the original Templar: one of protection of Jerusalem and its holy shrines. However their ambition is to control the Temple Mount under the auspices of the United Nations. To achieve this they plan the destruction of the Muslim Dome of the Rock using men dressed as Israeli soldiers. They ally themselves with a neo-Teutonic order of Knights, whilst the charismatic Grand Master of the neo-Templar Order prophesises the 9/11 attacks on America. He claims access to the Holy Grail in a hidden Templar abbey in Armenia which will provide the 'elixir of youth' to its inner circle of Templar leaders. Meanwhile, the Order invites three historians to study their archives - two historians from Cambridge and one from Harvard. The academics not only stumble on the Jerusalem plot, but also the dark secrets of the Order's spiritual activities, revolving around ancient Mithraic sacrificial practices. The very essence of evil becomes a stark reality as the three historians realise they have mistakenly become embroiled in a plot which threatens the balance of world power.
I'm going to find this review hard to write. You see, I like books that involve the mysterious Templars. I also enjoy books that take a concept such as the Templars or the Holy Grail, and wrap a thriller around it (yes, I found the Da Vinci Code quite diverting). Dark Knights of the Soul ticked all those boxes and should have been a novel I enjoyed! There were some scenes that I found entertaining, but overall this was just a poorly-written book that became difficult to enjoy.
I want to first mention the good point of the novel. On a couple of occasions, Simpson developed some scenes that had a feeling of oppressive menace, especially while the four students were in the Templar Castle and trying to discover the true intentions of the Grand Master. There was distasteful imagery in the Chapel, and the concept of burying people alive, that sent a chill down the spine.
Honestly, the story wasn't awful - it was mainly the execution that I struggled with, for the following reasons (which I shall try to keep as constructive as possible).
My first point is the rather clumsy foreshadowing that Simpson employed. This includes the fact that Chapter One involved showing a scene that came halfway through the actual novel. I would encourage Simpson to employ a Prologue if he chooses to foreshadow in his next novel - the book will read more smoothly. I would also encourage him to avoid sentences such as: "As later events unfolded, the significance of his expression 'our God' took on a darker meaning." I believe Simpson was using this style to try and generate tension, and I have seen the method employed successfully in other novels, but in this case it didn't work for me.
Simpson is very knowledgeable about his subject (a plus) but I think he should have more faith in his readers to pick up and follow the various threads of his tale: an example of him not doing this is where he over-emphasised the Templar insignia (two horsemen on one steed) as though he didn't believe his readers would remember it.
I understand that Simpson has a great deal of information to impart, but on occasion he falls into long periods of exposition - paragraph after paragraph of rather dense historical facts that are not even presented in the form of dialogue. I think that he needs to look at his methods of providing background information, and improve these in the future.
I accept that Simpson probably feels as though The Da Vinci Code rather glamorised the Holy Grail without using true facts, but I did find it distasteful that he expressed his dissatisfaction at this by using his characters to make pointed digs at the book: " 'Hi Theo -' a long pause - 'you're in Glastonbury! How is your book on the Grail progressing? The subject is hot now, isn't it? That absurd Da Vinci Code book engaging excessive publicity.' "
I was disappointed at the depiction of the characters. None of them stood out as being particularly memorable, and Simpson was unable to use their dialogue as a way of identifying them. In fact, the dialogue was both stilted: " 'Let's face it, we're here because of the lush attractions of the location. Can we agree on the real facts as we know them?' " and lacking emotion: " 'What is the trouble, darling?' He replied, 'You! I love you, you see.' "
All of the information about the Templars and the locations within Switzerland are well-researched, but at points Simpson's lack of research and knowledge is very evident. My particular example here is concerning the Official Secrets Act - the characters signed the Official Secrets Act, and then were deemed to be covered from the moment of the signature being completed, whereas in actual fact the information on the form would need to be investigated and then clearance provided. The background of your family has to be checked as well as your own activities (I have signed the Official Secrets Act, y'see?) Not only this, but, having signed the Official Secrets Act, Nicholas and Charlotte seem to blab about the situation to all and sundry.
The final point I wish to make (although I do have other minor complaints about the novel) is the pacing. Simpson builds up nicely through the middle of the novel with scenes of genuine tension to what you imagine will be an explosive finale, but then the main characters end up on a slow city tour of Jerusalem where Simpson indulges himself in showing his knowledge about the culture, religion and locations of this holy place. This sort of interruption does not help the flow of the novel.
As you can see, although I felt that there was a decent novel hidden within the pages of Dark Knights of the Soul, I didn't enjoy Jeremy Simpson's writing, and certainly do not feel that it is any better than the Da Vinci Code. It was poorly-written and ineffective.