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Move over, Cornwell, Stockwin, Sidebottom and Iggulden and any other writers of historical dramas/fiction that are out there, a 'new kid' has firmly arrived on the street... Matthew Reilly has continued his blockbusting cinematic writing style of contemporary novels with his latest novel, The Tournament set in the Middle Ages.
He has taken 13 year old Bess along on a journey, accompanying her teacher and Royal Court attendant, Roger Ascham, with Mr Giles, the latter, King Henry VIII's choice of representative in the worlds first Chess Championship to determine who truly is the best Chess player in the world......
The Tournament is invitational only to be held in the Ottoman capital of Constantinople at the invite of 'His Exalted Majesty Suleiman The Magnificent, Caliph of the Sons and Daughters of Allah, Sultan Lord and Ruler of All That He Surveys".
Thirteen year old Bess, if you haven't read the clue above, is the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII and will eventually rise to become Queen Elisabeth I of England. Ensconced in Hatfield House, away from Court she is under the tutelage of Roger Ascham a Cambridge Scholar and a firm believer that a good 'education' is not something to be trifled with, even if his methods sometimes bring down the wrath of the King!
It would be difficult to review the story of this book without giving away many spoilers, so in broad terms only, Suleiman The Magnificent has issued invitations to the main and upcoming rulers of the day in all known Christendom. Contained within that invitation is a secret message and all are instructed to send their own chess champions along with a 'gift' for the Sultan.
King Henry consults Ascham as to his friend and fellow Cambridge teacher, Gilbert Giles, as to whether he is 'the best chess player' in the land. Ascham confirms that it is his belief that he is, and so Giles, accompanied by Ascham, Bess and the Ponsonby's, chaperones for Bess, set off across Europe for Constantinople. Bess is also allowed to take a travelling companion and chooses Elsie Fitzgerald who around 5 years older than Bess and much more worldly, and a very interesting character, finds herself in a whole heap of trouble.
However, notwithstanding Elsie's liaisons, there is much more trouble and intrigue in the Royal Palaces of Topkapi and Hagia Sophia in the heart of Constantinople. The city is being terrorised before the tournament by a murderer who once the murder has been committed , then skins the lower jaw of his victims leaving the skin, jawbone and teeth exposed and then leaves the bodies on display.
On the opening night;s ceremony's Bess leaves the banquet hall to get a better view of a fireworks display and is met with the sight of Cardinal Farnese, an envoy accompanying the Holy See's player and an outspoken opponent of Allah and the Moslem faith, dead, in a courtyard pool, with a disfigured jaw!
All in all there are 6 murders over the remaining pages and after the first The Sultan tasks Mr Ascham with finding the killer after hearing from Michaelangelo - did I mention that this book is sprinkled with many famous characters from history, yep Michaelangelo of Sistine Chapel and other famous works of arts and invention, and an old friend of Mr Ascham's - that he has some detective skills.
That's all I can really tell you without giving the whole thing away, suffice it to say Mr Ascham does on more than one occasion come close to losing our future Queen in the most terrible of circumstances....
Matthew Reilly writes big descriptive scenes, he lays it all out there like a cinema screen and you are visualizing these scenes in your minds eye as you race through this book and it does become a race as he writes so intelligently and with a fluidity that makes it difficult for you, the reader/ watcher, to stop turning pages.
He has done some marvellous research both on Chess, and the period of history described, that he almost convinces you, like those fine authors mentioned in the opening paragraph and in their historical pieces, that the events unfolding in front of you, DID REALLY OCCUR. He weaves true events into the story line and informs us that even some of the maladies of our own time started even before the setting of this tome and continue to vex as now as they did then and we realise, that just maybe, there are no solutions to the ills of man and religion so long as 'faith' has followers and the predilections of the weak willed are covered up by their unswerving following and adherence to that 'faith'..
This really is a marvellous read and your reading enjoyment will only be increased by adding this to your TBR pile, but when you start it, you wont be able to stop. I should warn you though, that this book, like most of Mr Reilly's other published works, is not for the faint hearted. The descriptions of priests, and others, and their 'use' of young boys and others, could offend and there are, through Elsie Fitzgerald's descriptions, some 'racy' sexual encounters too.
At the end of the book Mr Reilly informs us of the material he used for reference and also reproduces an interesting interview he gave on the subject of the book
Reading Enjoyment: 5 out of 5
Page length on kindle /iPad: Not given, but about 432 pages in length
Plot: 5 out of 5
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
Foot Note. If you want to get a taste, FOR FREE of Mr Reilly's writing and of Mr Roger Ascham then I recommend his little FREE prequel to the Tournament, Roger Ascham and the King's Lost Girl The whole thing is about 88 pages in length with only about 25 of them a very short and interesting tale of murder in Cambridge, introducing us to the analytical mind of Ascham.
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