The year is 1546.
Europe lives in fear of the powerful Islamic empire to the East. Under its charismatic Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, it is an empire on the rise. It has defeated Christian fleets. It has conquered Christian cities.
Then the Sultan sends out an invitation to every king in Europe: send forth your champion to compete in a tournament unlike any other.
We follow the English delegation, selected by King Henry VIII himself, to the glittering city of Constantinople, where the most amazing tournament ever staged will take place.
But when the stakes are this high, not everyone plays fair, and for our team of plucky English heroes, winning may not be the primary goal. As a series of barbaric murders take place, a more immediate goal might simply be staying alive
For many years Matthew Reilly has been my favourite action story writer. I’ve happily jumped on board both the Scarecrow and Jack West Jnr trains, and thoroughly enjoyed every crazy ride. Say what you will about the plausibility of his stories, but you cannot deny they are fun. That’s why I read them.
Which is why I’m still unsure how I feel about The Tournament. Mr Reilly has certainly been expanding his repertoire over recent years with books such as Hover Car Racer—which has children as the main protagonists—and The Great Zoo of China—fronted by a female lead—which digress somewhat from his usual fare. But both of these books still pack a punch on the action front, even if the packaging is vastly different. The Tournament, however, is uncategorically historical fiction, centred around a very young Elizabeth I and her tutor Roger Ascham. I will admit that history is not my strongest suit, but the older I get the more I love it, and it was fascinating to learn that Roger Ascham was a real person and really did tutor the young Elizabeth. Mr Reilly seamlessly weaves fact and fiction, and really captures a sense of the era.
The story is set in Constantinople and centres around a chess tournament arranged by the Sultan himself. Both the Roman Catholic Church and Islam feature in this story, not especially from a religious point of view, more from how intrinsic they were to the time and place the story was set, and I liked that. I liked how they were part of the story and yet not the focal point of the story, and I liked how the conflict was about the people and not their religious orientation or beliefs. The writing was clean, the research thorough and the dialogue felt authentic to the time, but I found the story itself to be a little weak. Perhaps this was because I’m so used to Mr Reilly’s usual fare of relentless edge-of-your-seat action, perhaps it was in part because The Tournament has a bit of an identity issue. The story, I felt, would have been better suited to a younger audience, but the sexual content rules it out of that genre. It leaves the book rather betwixt and between.
Which pretty much sums up my feelings about it. All told, a good one time read but I’m not sure who I’d recommend this too. I’d rather have had another helping of Scarecrow. That being said, I’m very interested to see where Mr Reilly goes next…