Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs | Solomon’s Thieves
Written by Jordan Mechner; Illustrated by LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland
First Second; $12.99
There’s no Book 1 printed anywhere on the cover of Solomon’s Thieves, but there should be. It’s the first story in a planned trilogy, but I didn’t know that until I got to the author’s afterword. (Jordan Mechner writes really useful afterwords, by the way. I found both this one and the one in Prince of Persia full of great information about the development of their stories.) Had I known that the story wasn’t going to wrap up at the end of this volume, I wouldn’t have gotten so nervous about two-thirds through.
The title of the book refers to the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, aka the Knights Templar. In the afterword, Mechner describes learning about the dissolution of the Templars by King Philip IV of France who – according to my Wikipedia research anyway – was in deep financial debt to the order. Philip was able to use public fears to his advantage and forced Pope Clement to support him in his Inquisition against the Templars. Which led Mechner to sympathize with the rank-and-file knights of the order who found themselves “pawns in a political chess game their simple ideals of chivalry and brotherhood hadn’t equipped them for.”
That became the seed of his story, the works of Alexandre Dumas became the format, and Mechner crafted a loving tribute to both these nameless knights and the father of the historical swashbuckler. Solomon’s Thieves does indeed read like a Dumas novel. It focuses on the personal lives of a few fictional characters who end up brushing elbows and crossing swords with some notorious, non-fictional people in order to affect actual, historical events.
The main character is a knight named Martin who’s just returned to Paris from the Crusades with his buddies. While walking through the streets one day, Martin sees a lady on a balcony and recognizes her as the woman who broke his heart and drove him to join the Templars. He obsesses about her the rest of the day until his two closest friends convince him to sneak out with them after dark and visit her. While they’re gone, the rest of the Templars are rounded up and arrested.
The rest of the story is full of twists and double-crosses, so I’ll leave the details alone, but the general thrust is that Martin becomes caught up in a mystery concerning some Templar treasure that’s gone missing. Various groups are looking for it, including King Philip and his men, and Martin decides to try to get it and keep it safe for any of his brothers who survive the Inquisition.
Like I said though, there are no end to the shifting allegiances and new characters are added all the time to further complicate the story and make it interesting. Mechner also spends enough time on Martin’s romance to make it important whether or not Martin’s eventually going to end up with the girl. All of this takes a lot of time, plus there are the action sequences: carriage chases, jail breaks, a swordfight in the rafters of a burning building… that kind of thing.
As I was closing in on the end of the volume, I was completely satisfied with the story I’d been told so far, but was growing increasingly nervous about the end. There was no way that Martin and his companions were going to be able to get hold of the treasure without rushing the end and ruining the magic of the rest of the book. I began to regret how jam-packed the story was earlier. If only Mechner had moved a little faster – made it a little less complicated – the ending could keep the same pace and feel satisfying. I prepared myself for disappointment.
And was thrilled to see “End of Book One” after the last panel.
To be fair, the second title page does have “Book One” as a sub-title, but I typically skip past those and didn’t see it. The only reason I’m making kind of a big deal about it is because looking back on the whole book, I loved it. If it has any flaws, I’m blinded to them by the sheer Dumas-ness of the story and the religious experience of taking in all that majestic, sensual art. So I don’t want anyone else’s reading of it to be less than perfect, and knowing that it’s just the first part will help with that.
Five out of five jailbreaks.