A dark, entangled, eerily insinuating first novel concerning the labyrinthine power-politics of the 14th-century Roman Catholic Church, and the intricate knot of conspiracies among clashing clerics and kings. At the center here is the humbly born Cistercian friar (he will become Pope Benedict XII) who grows in authority—as well as in cynical wisdom—as he searches for what will become known as the Shroud of Turin. Brother Jacques Fornier is stunned to be called before the ruthless Bernard de Caen, Inquisitor General for Provence, and, further, to be told that he and the young dispossessed knight, Nicholas de Lirey, will be sent to carry out a secret mission whose failure might mean the total control of the Church by King Philip the Fair of France. Oddly, a lot depends on the secrets of one prisoner—aging Pietro of Ocre, a preceptor of the order of the Temple and descendant of the counts of Ocre. (The now-destroyed Templars had aimed for control of the Church through a puppet pope.) It is some time, plus thickets of dangers undergone, before the goal of the quest—an ``image''—is apparent to Jacques, whose sleuthing leads to Ocre, in Italy. Before Jacques rides off with the''image,'' there will be perilous journeys, during which Jacques and Nicholas enjoy growing mutual respect; audiences with powerful men—from a weak Pope Clement to a terrifying King Philip—whose purposes and plots are mainly hidden; interrogations, hideous tortures and deaths; and, at the close, with the Shroud discovered, the hacking away at each other of King Philip's men, mercenaries, a remnant of Templar knights, and clerics as Jacques rides away with the prize, knowing its falsity. He has real power now, plus a knowledge of human folly. A thorny, intelligent medieval tale of nasty business in the name of religion.
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