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Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Tournament by Matthew Reilly w/ bonus review of Roger Ascham And The King's Lost Girl (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website 
Read an excerpt HERE 
Order The Tournament HERE (US & UK) 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Scarecrow Returns 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Matthew Reilly was born and brought up in Sydney, Australia. He studied law at the University of New South Wales and wrote his first two books while being a student. He self published his first book, which lead to his eventual publication by Pan Macmillan. He is a cricket aficionado as well as a movie memorabilia collector. One of his prize items is a DeLorean DMC-12 and other items from the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises.

OFFICIAL BLURB: England, 1546. A young Princess Elizabeth is surrounded by uncertainty. She is not currently in line for the throne, but remains a threat to her older sister and brother.

In the midst of this fevered atmosphere comes an unprecedented invitation from the Sultan in Constantinople. He seeks to assemble the finest chess players from the whole civilized world and pit them against each other.

Roger Ascham, Elizabeth's teacher and mentor in the art of power and politics, is determined to keep her out of harm's way and resolves to take Elizabeth with him when he travels to the glittering Ottoman capital for the tournament.

But once there, the two find more danger than they left behind. There's a killer on the loose and a Catholic cardinal has already been found mutilated. Ascham is asked by the Sultan to investigate the crime. But as he and Elizabeth delve deeper, they find dark secrets, horrible crimes and unheard-of depravity. Things that mark the young princess for life and define the queen she will become.

FORMAT/INFO: The Tournament is 410 pages long, divided over six sections (titled after chess pieces) with a prologue and epilogue as well as forty-three chapters. Narration is in the first-person via Princess Elizabeth (Bess) and Gwinny Stubbes. There's also a postscript detailing the futures of all the important historical personae. A note is also included in which the author discusses his historical sources as well as a detailed author interview.

November 13, 2013 marked the UK hardback and e-book publication of The Tournament via Orion books.

ANALYSIS: Matthew Reilly is one of my favorite thriller writers; he's what one would refer to as brain candy. His books are filled with adorable, heroic characters, over-the-top & drawn-out action sequences and lastly memorable plots. His Shane Schofield series established his name and signature writing style. His second book "Temple" was a variant in his writing style that it featured a dual storyline and the second plotline was placed in the latter half of the sixteenth century. This was the only instance of Matthew Reilly ever writing a historical thriller until now that is.

With The Tournament, the author heads back to the sixteenth century however instead of the new world (in Temple), the story is set in continental Europe and the city of Istanbul. The protagonist for this remarkable story is none other Queen Elizabeth I however she is just a teenager and is guided by her remarkable tutor Roger Ascham. The story is told entirely from Elizabeth's POV except for the prologue and epilogue. The beauty of the plot is that it focuses on a chess tournament which is to be held in the city of Istanbul and is organized by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman the Magnificent. What starts out to be a simple chess tournament soon gets mired in conspiracy and murder as a catholic priest is found murdered brutally and Roger Ascham along with Bess (as Elizabeth is referred to) get embroiled in it. Following sixteen famed players and with quintessential Matthew Reilly plot twists, The Tournament is a book that will delight most of his fans and might win him some new ones as well.

What I liked about this book was that the author unabashedly sticks to his storytelling style and keeps the plot moving forward with an extremely rapid pace. The book has a multitude of famous characters and one doesn't need to be a European history expert to enjoy their interactions. Elizabeth as a character is rather subdued and often focuses on her mentor Roger Ascham who is presented with a strong Sherlockian vibe. He is a man of knowledge and rational behavior, often focusing on the details and science to formulate his answers and thoughts. He often steals the scenes as a worthy historical predecessor to Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary virtuoso. The author creates many situations that perhaps are his way of explaining how they molded Elizabeth's character and thought process thereby making her into the formidable monarch she eventually became.

The book’s main draw begins with the chess tournament when the famed sixteen players face-off against each other. To offset the tournament's excitement, there’s also the murder mystery, which is set among the court of the sultan. The author keeps the tension twisting with both story threads and the plot twists keep on coming ending in a solid climax that resolves both plot threads. While the story unfolds quite brutally, this book deals with some adult themes in regards to sexuality, sexual abuse and morality. I enjoyed this aspect of the story as previously the author has taken a PG-13 view with his stories. Lastly the author has also gives a major clue for a potential sequel story than can either be done in a short or longer form.

While this book was a runaway story with some clever twists to it, there are some points that might not make it an intellectual equal of "The Name Of The Rose". The author often injects modern twentieth and twenty-first century sensibilities into the characters and their views. While it was enjoyable to read the various fallacies about the Catholic Church and the Ottoman Empire. It's hardly believable that these characters would be able to formulate them. The author has indicated certain historical facts to substantiate his extrapolations and it will be up to the readers to decide how believable it all is. This point though doesn't detract anything from the story but is a sore point for all sticklers of historical accuracy especially when it comes to historical fiction dealing with famous real-life personalities. There’s also one character that seems to be set up for a horrendous fall and basically is included to make a point about why Elizabeth remained a virgin (allegedly). It will be up to the readers to see how this twist pans out. For me it was rather unsavory to say the least.

Overall I would say that this book is a typical Matthew Reilly thriller albeit set in the sixteenth century and in Constantinople (nee Istanbul) a city wherein the author hasn't set any of his previous stories. It also features various famous historical characters and it was quite fun to read their interactions as well as see their predilections. This book works wonderfully if read as a fun thriller with some interesting factoids about chess and historical characters/organizations. It is not a true account of history and therefore doesn't seek to adhere to standards of historical accuracy.

CONCLUSION: The Tournament is a fun book that is an excellent mix of historical thriller and murder mystery. While this book will certainly excite Matthew Reilly’s fans, for seasoned thriller and historical fiction readers, this book might fall flat entirely. This book should be taken for what it is, a fun thriller written by Matthew Reilly in his inimitable style. It entertains and makes the time fly.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Roger Ascham And The King’s Lost Girl is a prequel short story that is freely available on the author’s website. It’s about 34 pages long divided over seven small chapters. The protagonist of the story is the titular character and the story is set in Cambridge.

The events of the story occur about seven months prior to those of The Tournament and we find Roger Ascham being summoned by Henry VIII for some deed of his that the king frowns upon. The king while a bit flummoxed by Roger’s approach to Elizabeth’s education doesn’t necessarily chide him for it. He wants Roger to find out about Isabella, his favorite concubine in Cambridge who has recently gone missing. Also previously the person who was tasked with finding her has turned up dead and now it all has fallen upon Roger.

The story is a straightforward mystery short whose outcome is not at all hard to guess. Infact this story I believe, is simply set up to give the readers an inkling about Roger’s mental acumen and the type of person he is. This prequel short can be read either before or after reading The Tournament, but be warned that the inherent mystery is also revealed in the longer book. Since it’s a free story I would heartily recommend it for all Matthew Reilly fans and for those readers who enjoyed The Tournament. For all other folks, this is a fun free short and in that regard, it shouldn’t be missed.


Nayan said...

Thanks a lot for this update especially the short.

Robyn said...

The cover art on the book is beautiful! I enjoyed the review and can't wait to pick this one up. Thanks for the great review. Have you heard of the book, "Chasing A Miracle" by author Eliot Hartford Bailey? Due to the subject matter, it appeals to a wide audience (gender wise and age wise). It is the first book in a trilogy that will only get stronger as it progresses. I recently read it and will be reading it again shortly. One of my favorites!


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