Story Review: Shades of Blood and Darkness by Joseph Nassise

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The Templar Knights, warrior monks from the time of the Crusades, have come a long way in fantasy and horror fiction. In 1820, Sir Walter Scott portrayed a Templar as a rich, degenerate villain. At the dawn of this century, Katherine Kurtz led a revival of Templar stories, set in the past and present, usually involving  a secret order protecting treasures. Often these stories featured arcane powers and supernatural forces. 

I can’t get enough of them!

Prolific author Joseph Nassise has several series going simultaneously, but my favorite is THE TEMPLAR CHRONICLES. With the fifth book in the series, JUDGMENT DAY about to be released on Amazon Kindle, I went back to where it all began, a short story entitled SHADES OF BLOOD AND DARKNESS (originally published as THIS CLEANSING FIRE).

SHADES runs about forty-four pages, and establishes the “world” in which the series takes place. After being excommunicated in 1134 AD, with many leaders tortured and burned at the stake, the Poor Knights went underground, taking their fabulous wealth with them, and continuing to fight the good fight, presumably as mercenaries, until reconciling with Pope XI after World War I.

Now serving as the Catholic Church’s “black ops” division, the Order is a fully funded, well-supplied, international special forces group, taking on the kinds of battles for which secular soldiers are ill-equipped.

They go after supernatural threats, with everything the Church, top notch technology and weapons can throw at them. (Even their ceramic body armor has been blessed by the Holy Father.)

All except series protagonist Cade Williams, who goes after them with a vengeance.

Maimed by an encounter with a fallen angel he calls The Adversary, Williams was also “touched” by evil power, and now possesses several occult abilities, including supernatural sight, psychometry, and the ability to leap into the Beyond (the lowest levels of the astral plane where the dead and all manner of beasties dwell) through mirrors.

SHADES OF BLOOD AND DARKNESS sets the template for Nassise’s subsequent books in THE TEMPLAR CHRONICLES series, beginning with the break-out novel THE HERETIC

SHADES feels like the “suiting up” scenes so popular in action films. 

Williams leads a squad of modern day knights. They’re on a mission to locate a missing squad leader. There’s a little reminiscing followed by detective work, but once the action kicks in, most of the story is like a supernatural SWAT or Special Forces procedural, where the team knows they’re walking into a trap. When it springs, and in a very real sense “all hell breaks loose,” they have to fight their way out of it. The action is vivid, intense, and the ensuing carnage is a satisfying resolution to the pent up suspense.

Cade Williams is an especially interesting protagonist. He works for the Church, yet doesn’t follow protocol, much less orders. He serves the Light, but is touched by Darkness. He is tainted by the very evil he is fighting. Even as a squad leader, where teamwork is key, he’s an outsider. He works within the system, but has his own agenda. And yet his men follow him, again and again, into the maw of shrieking horror.

The focus on a protagonist who is dubbed “The Heretic,” weakens THE TEMPLAR CHRONICLES as Catholic fiction, though the series is still excellent urban fantasy. The Church element is present tangentially and referentially, but there are no prominent characters who are motivated by a deeply held faith — unusual for soldiers who take vows of celibacy, secrecy and self-sacrifice. Like exorcists armed with Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns, you’d think their frequent encounters with evil personified would bring at least some of them to their knees — and not just for a more stable firing position.

Be warned. Nassise loves ending with a good cliffhanger. Most of the stories culminate in a thrilling battle, a narrow escape, new and vital information obtained at great cost, and either an imminent threat or unfinished business to be resolved. So once you jump in to THE TEMPLAR CHRONICLES, you’re hooked.

SHADES OF BLOOD AND DARKNESS is the perfect jumping off point.

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