I accidentally stumbled across this book. I bought it (in paperback) because I'm interested in the Templars' story. I'd never read Jack Whyte's books before. I found it a great read and very well written. I'm somewhat mystified by others' complaints about the book, though, and since those who complained weren't really very explicit about what it was that they didn't like, I hope I can explain exactly why I DID like it in order to be helpful to those thinking about buying it and who might enjoy it, as I did. (I suspect that the complainers may have been like those who rejected "The Da Vinci Code" out of hand because they were so shocked at the suggestion of a relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene that they couldn't handle it. Actually, this book does not take the same tack, but may be equally shocking to those of fragile faith.)
First, I thought Mr. Whyte took a very interesting approach to the Templar story, one that was different from the tack taken by "The Da Vinci Code" and its imitators. (Nothing wrong with that -- those books are entertaining in their own way, but they are not focused on the Templars, per se.) Whyte's story starts with the men who went to take part in the first Crusade and later founded the Templar Order, particularly Hugh de Payens. Whyte fills in a surprising and interesting backstory about another ancient, secret Order behind the scenes which provided the motivation for the men who later founded the Order. In Whyte's story, these men didn't go to the Crusades, found the Templars, then later stumble across secrets in the foundations of the Temple Mount -- they went to the Crusades with the intention of finding something on the Temple Mount and already were in possession of information about what they might find and where they might find it. They founded the order that later became known as the Templars as a means for them to accomplish their secret purpose -- since it allowed them to hide in plain sight what they were actually doing. That's quite an interesting take on the story.
Second, I liked the development of the whole plot line of the book. The character of Hugh de Payens is an interesting portrayal of a very serious, taciturn, principled man of action. Although some reviewers complained about "talky" passages being too long, I disagree. I thought that the passages in which his elders in the secret order explain to Hugh their beliefs and his duties are necessary. (There were lots of people who complained about the character Morpheus's "talky" parts of the film "The Matrix," too -- but I disagree about that, as well. Sometimes you just have to have someone tell you the information that is the "set-up" for the story or belief system that the new person -- and over his shoulder, the reader -- is learning about.) I thought this was a reasonable way to do it, and I liked the "re-cap" as well, meaning that after the first round of informative explanation about the secret order as they join up, Hugh and his two best friends spend a later chapter talking to each other about what they think about what they've recently learned and -- now that they have a secret they can't share -- how it sets them apart from everyone they have previously been close to. I found that an interesting and plausible description of that situation. I thought the description of the experiences of the major characters during the Crusades (the middle section of the book) was good -- it was fast, action-packed, and provided a solid narrative that the reader can follow to see what it might have been like to have been there. The final section, regarding the founding of the Templar order (not called that at first, though) and the digging in the Temple ruins, was quite interesting, I thought. Perhaps some people became impatient with the narrative and wanted to just skip on to the part where they finally find the ruins beneath the ruins, but I thought it made the story more realistic (i.e., true to the experience) as well as more plausible (i.e., it's reasonable to assume that the Templars may have had had an inkling going in of the significance of what they were searching for if they had to dig so long and so hard to find it).
Third, I thought that the story provided an interesting take on the relationships between people in the area (i.e., the primarily Sunni people of Jerusalem and others in the wider Middle East -- like the Shi'a in what is now Iraq who later gave rise to Saladin, who bested (in the Third Crusade) Richard the Lionheart and denied him entry into Jerusalem.) Whyte's story thus provides a glimpse of the world the Templars have taken (temporarily) and the forces that begin to react to their being there and continue to affect them as long as they are there. For example, I have read other books -- like "The Templars and the Assassins: The Militia of Heaven" by James Wasserman -- that discuss possible connections and cross-influences between the followers of the Old Man of the Mountain and the Templars, if only to be aware of and to try to understand each others' effectiveness as fighters. Thus, I found Whyte's depiction of the aquaintance between the youngest Templar, Stephen St. Clair, and Hassan the Assissin to be interesting and plausible.
Perhaps this story isn't for everyone -- but for me, it was a good read and had lots of interesting ideas and characters.
I'm eagerly awaiting the second book in the trilogy!