Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Flowers of Evil by Simon Acland

“Why are the disciples always more fanatical than those that they follow? Why does their belief have to be more certain than their teachers? Why do they not understand that what is right for one may not be right for another? Why should one man’s right be another’s wrong?” –The Flowers of Evil
As promised by the ending of his prequel, Simon Acland returns his readers to the Crusader period and the adventures of his hero, Hugh de Verdon in The Flowers of Evil, available later this summer. When the reader last saw Hugh in The Waste Land, captivity in the stronghold of by Hasan-i-Sabah, the mysterious Old Man of the Mountains had broken him. Hugh also learned that the woman he loved was not his ideal. Hugh’s story unravels through the lens of history, where the old Master of a bankrupt college, collaborating with several of his counterparts in administration and a former student, a Best-Selling Author, attempt to piece together Hugh's later years. As in the prequel, there are other forces at work intent on keeping the work a secret. One by one, the college’s administrators suffer mysterious deaths and mishaps, as the Best-Selling Author starts to wonder whether he isn’t putting his own life at risk in the endeavor.

The Flowers of Evil parallels the misadventures at the college with the hero’s life. Hugh moves as easily between the Christian and Muslim worlds, as The Flowers of Evil dovetails his life and the events befalling the administrators. Initiated into the Hasan-i-Sabah’s rites, Hugh embarks on a quest for vengeance that claims the life of a beloved fried. As before, he questions his faith and finds similarities in religions that claim to be disparate from each other. He meets several strangers, each of whom will have everlasting effects on his life and events of the Crusades. The story explores the convoluted period, including the origin of the Templars and some of the myths surrounding them. When Hugh returns to his birth country of France, a chance encounter with a little boy named Chretien ensures his name in history.    
Author Simon Acland
Reading The Flowers of Evil was like visiting an old friend. Most of the characters I enjoyed in The Waste Land returned, though those who had met a terrible, if justified end in the first book gave rise to newer, more malevolent characters in this one. The only figure that completely puzzled me was the old hermit in the desert; I’m off to ask Mr. Acland for a little insider knowledge on the ideas behind the character, so I hope he’ll indulge me. Most of all, I anticipate there will be more to follow on Hugh’s life. If not, there should be. Mr. Acland still writes with confidence and skill about the period. Anyone with an interest in the period will enjoy this novel. 

I don’t recommend reading this latest book before exploring some of the mysteries of the prequel. If a reader does not know of some of the adventures Hugh has in The Waste Land, it might be difficult to comprehend the heart-breaking circumstance he finds himself in at the beginning of The Flowers of Evil.