The Dark Monk by Oliver Pötzsch
1660, a small village in the Alps: In the thick of a blizzard, a town priest discovers he’s been poisoned. As numbness creeps up his body, he summons the last of his strength and scratches a sign in the frost that will lead the town hangman, his daughter, and the town physician in pursuit of a treasure of the Knights Templar. But the priest’s murderer is already on their trail, and he’s not the only one after the legendary fortune: a dark monk is not far behind, and a band of thieves is roving the countryside, attacking solitary travelers and spreading panic. The race is on, and the stakes are high.
- There are a number of allusions to the Templar text Ordinis Templorum Historia and Latin quotes throughout the novel. Explain these references: How do they help to solve the mystery?
- Explain the various roles religion plays in The Dark Monk.
- Augustin Bonenmayr is seeking the True Cross of Christ—“It will adorn this church, and crowds of pilgrims will once again come flocking to Steingaden!”—and is willing to do anything to obtain it, even kill. How does history show that religious fervor always leads to violence?
- The novel opens with a quote from Aristotle, Poetics, XXIV: “We delight in marvelous things. One proof of that is that everyone embellishes somewhat when telling a story in the assumption he is pleasing his listener.” How is this sentiment explored in The Dark Monk? Who in the novel embellishes their story? What, if any, punishment is given to this person?
- Compare how Oliver Pötzsch fleshes out the male and female characters. Do you think he does a better job with one gender? Why do you think he chose Magdalena Kuisl instead of Jakob Kuisl to title the series after?
- Discuss the significance of Andreas Koppmeyer. What is his role in the story?
- How does Benedikta serve as a foil to Magdalena? Who, if anyone, fills that role for Simon?
- Why is Simon “both attracted and repelled” by Benedikta?
- How does Simon’s superficial love of fashion and appearance blind him to potential danger?
10. How much, if any, has Johann Lechner changed since the first novel? Is Lechner still willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of Schongau?
11. Explain Kuisl’s worry for Simon while having hardly any for his daughter, Magdalena, while she is in Augsburg. Was it was a wise decision to send Magdalena, a young woman, to Augsburg without an escort?
12. Who do you think the hidden “master” of the story is? Who do you think is the fourth robber?
13. Discuss the significance of Jakob Kuisl referring to his time as a soldier as “from before.”
14. What do you make of Jakob Kuisl’s distinction “I’m a hangman, but not a murderer”?
15. What are some of the pleasures and drawbacks of reading historical novels, especially those with a grounding in reality?
Discussion questions written by Keturah Jenkins.
© 2012 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt