Initially what is effectively an introduction describes the facts and history of the religious factions involved in this book and, although this is a thriller about good and evil, it is explained how a split within the Franciscans gave rise to the Gnostic Observatines and the Conventuals. Eventually the Pope sided with the Conventuals to try and prevent the Observatines spreading their own gospel throughout the world and hence increasing their own power and influence, but many Observatines did settle around the Middle East. The Vatican was not pleased with such a situation because the Gnostics believe that the physical world is corrupt and the true path to salvation involves spiritual goodness. An organisation called the Knights, who acted as a form of papal army, fought to destroy the power of the order of the Gnostic Observantines.
- Eric Van Lustbader
This story, although fiction, continues that struggle and is actually a sequel to an earlier text, The Testament, which was published several years ago. The whole book is divided into five parts each involving different areas of the Middle East around the Mediterranean. The Prologue is set in the Baatara Gorge Waterfall in central Lebanon where Valentin Kite, a collector of antiques, has been sent by Aldus Reichmann, of the Knights of Saint Clement of the Holy Land, to hopefully discover King Solomon’s Mines and the secret of alchemy. However, Valentin is more concerned with finding the Testament of Lucifer, one of the three relics which would enable the power of the forces of evil.
In his fortress castle in Malta, Aldus Reichmann is taken to task by a cardinal for losing contact with Valentin whose whole team seems to have been destroyed. The cardinal is also annoyed because it seems that Bravo Shaw, the current leader of the Haute Cour (the cabinet of the Gnostic Observatines) has had the members dispersed hence Aldus is charged with using his own mercenaries to finally eliminate the Observatines and find out what has happened to Valentin and his discoveries. Bravo Shaw is actually in Istanbul when he is confronted by Maura, Valentin’s wife and further warned of the imminent danger by Fra Leoni.
The ‘troops’ of both Bravo and Aldus Reichmann employ various methods to dispose of their enemy, including demons capable of possessing the bodies and souls of their victims before destroying them. A considerable number of characters and locations become involved, including a library with its attendant librarian in Egypt and a convent in Italy which is inhabited by somewhat unusual occupants who indulge in rather odd rituals.
The plot is somewhat complex and does tend to become confusing at times requiring mental alertness where people, locations and things like symbols are concerned but the whole novel seems to result in an ending which could be interpreted as somewhat incomplete. It is assumed this will allow at least one more book to be written in such a series. The book is enjoyable but certainly not just an “easy read” to while away the odd trip on train or aircraft. It is of course interesting to realise this is the author who wrote the Jason Bourne novels which also need some thinking about at times when reading them.