Matthew Reilly Steps out of the Box - 3.5 Stars
I am generally quite confident in my rating of book. I start formulating a rating halfway through. In this case, I vacillated greatly as I was reading this book and, ultimately, gave it a rating on the high end. In my rating system, three stars are average books that I neither hate nor love and usually feel indifference. If anything, The Tournament does not leave you feeling indifferent.
If, like me, you are a fan of Reilly's non stop action thrillers and his bigger than life heroes Shane "Scarecrow" Schofield and Jack West Jr., you are in for a big surprise with his latest work. Reilly is apparently channeling is inner Bernard Cornwell and delves into the historical Fiction genre. The result is a hybrid historical action adventure mystery focused around a chess tournament. Admittedly, this sounds a bit absurd but Reilly manages to pull it together.
The story is a flashback told from the perspective of Queen Elizabeth I. On her deathbed, she relates a story to a dear friend. A story that informed her adult life and helped shape her in the monarch she would become. The story tells of a Chess Tournament in Constantinople at the height of the Ottoman Empire. The Sultan has invited major kingdoms from around the world to send their best player to compete in this first ever chess tournament. The English champion in chosen and the Teacher of Elizabeth I convinces the King to allow him to bring her to the tournament. It would be dangerous, but she was third in line for the throne. She was in danger within the confines of her own city. Upon arrival to tournament, a murders begin to occur and the Sultan engages Elizabeth's teacher to use his deductive reasoning to find the killer. The reader follows the tournament while at the same time follow the investigation. We are introduced to many historical characters including Michelangelo and a young Ivan the Terrible to name a couple. My Thoughts
I have decided to forgo my customary Good/Bad analysis to give my overall thoughts. In the end, I gave this 3.5 stars because I enjoyed the story. The mystery was interesting and was similar to the wonderful (and superior) The Hangman's Daughter. Criminal investigations set in the distant past are interesting as the story often relies of the characters cunning and deductive ability to solve cases. It is interesting to see a crime solved without modern instruments, databases and other modern conveniences.
While this story is considered Historical Fiction, diehard fans of the genre may not novel. It doesn't have the hallmarks of great HF. While some elements are clearly researched, it doesn't immerse the reader into a time and place. Fortunately, I am a fan of Matthew Reilly. Having read most of the authors work, it bears the hallmarks of Reilly novel. The pace is brisk, people are dying horrible deaths, there is some political intrigue and there are some larger than life characters. Similarly, the book also lacks what the other Reilly novels lack, i.e. character development and location development. Readers familiar with Reilly will probably like this genre diversion while HF fans may find the below standard fare. Reilly creates events and places real persons within them. There is far more fiction than History.
While reading the novel, my biggest issue was with some of the content included. At the end of the novel, as is all of his novels, there is an interview with the author. Reilly clearly states that this novel is not for young people. With this, I wholeheartedly agree. Fans will be surprised with the amount of sexual content in the story. The content ranges from second-hand descriptions of erotic rendezvous to disturbing content of abuse of children. Reilly states he included this content to provide a possible reason as to why Elizabeth I did not marry. While the reasoning is interesting, the content was excessive. It is expected that HF novels included customs and practices of the time and the story certainly explores the sexual freedoms of the people of the Ottoman empire, inducing the sale and exploitation of children. The author also take the opportunity to use the historical abuse of children in Catholic Church. Unfortunately, the author strays far from the historical record and seemingly paints the entire Catholic Priesthood as homosexual pedophiles. A fan of the genre, it is important to me that the author clearly differentiate fact from fiction. These contrived elements detract from the story.
The Matthew Reilly fan in me enjoyed the story. The pacing was brisk and the mystery did not slow or stall. The HF fan found this to be contrived and below the expected standard. Had the story been written by a new author, I may have given it less than 3 stars. Being a Reilly fan, I was able to appreciate his form of story telling because for all we know, the next Jack West Jr. story may reveal that Jack is the great, great, great, great grandson of Queen Elizabeth's teacher and we will think that he is one bad dude. Content Advisories
It is difficult to find commentary on the sex/violence/language content of book if you are interested. I make an effort to give you the information so you can make an informed decision before reading. *Disclaimer* I do not take note or count the occurrences of adult language as I read. I am simply giving approximations.
Scale 1 - Lowest 5 - Highest
Sex - 4.5
The sexual content is high and may shock those who have read other Matthew Reilly work. Sex is prevalent in the book as there some exploration of the culture of sexual freedom in Constantinople and how this contested with the religious underpinnings of the city. In a seeming attempt to ensure that religions are treated equally, the same exploration of the Catholic religion is undertaken. Very early, we learn that Elizabeth's young friend and travel partner has "loose morals". A character oversees a sexual encounter that is moderately graphic. On at least three occasions, there is a second hand recounting of parties that involved drug uses and public sexual activity. There is less graphic descriptions of sexual abuse of children. The characters attend (for investigative purposes) on several occasions a the local whorehouse. There is some low graphic descriptions of the sights and sounds. While the content and descriptions are not highly graphic, the content is pervasive.
Language - 2.5
There is moderate to low use of mild obscenities and religious exclamations. There are multiple scatological terms and phrases used.
Violence - 3.5
There is considerably less violence than the average Reilly novel. While some of the murders involved mutilation, the descriptions were not graphic. By Reilly standards, the violence was very tame. The rating is increased because of the inclusion of sexual violence. Some readers will find the discussion of the abuse of children to be disturbing.