Posted By Claire on March 14, 2014
The Tournament is the latest thriller from internationally bestselling author Matthew Reilly. I’ve never read any of his books before, but this historical appears to be a departure from his usual work.
I read all 400+ pages of The Tournament in one weekend. I was hooked from the outset and I enjoyed every minute of it. I don’t usually recommend historical fiction books to my husband, as they’re not his cup of tea, but I’m passing this one on to him as it’s a fast-paced thriller which even non-history lovers will enjoy.
The novel is set in the year 1546, the last year of King Henry VIII’s reign, and the storyline sees Elizabeth, Henry’s daughter by Anne Boleyn, travelling to Constantinople with her tutor, Roger Ascham, to watch a chess tournament. Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, has invited the best chessplayers from European countries to take part and the English entry is Gilbert Giles, a close friend of Ascham. Elizabeth ends up tagging along because the plague is rife in London and there are also worries that her life is in danger due to those who see her as a threat to her half-sister and half-brother’s claims to the throne. It is decided that Constantinople will be safer for her, but on the very first night of the party’s stay in the city a man is found murdered and Ascham finds himself investigating the murder.
Constantinople doesn’t just have murder, it also has a another dark side, a side that Elizabeth’s companion, Elsie, embraces wholeheartedly: organised orgies. Everybody in Constantinople seems to have a secret and nothing is what it seems. Elizabeth will be forever changed by what she sees and hears at this tournament. By giving her these experiences, Reilly explains how Elizabeth became the formidable woman who came to the throne in 1558 and why she never married. Obviously it’s a novel, and is fiction, but it is cleverly done.
The Tournament is a thrilling read and it brings the characters to life along with the dazzling court of the Sultan, and the dark world that exists alongside it. The novels has a warning at the beginning about how it is not suitable for younger readers and it does get very graphic at times, so be warned. I loved Ascham’s character and must admit to falling a little in love with him, an intelligent man who always puts his duty as Elizabeth’s tutor and protector first.
I loved the book and I was happy to see that a prequel to this book is available too as a short Kindle book – Roger Ascham and the King’s Lost Girl.
England, 1546: A young Princess Elizabeth is surrounded by uncertainty. The Black Death stalks the land and with it deadly conspiracies against her. She is not currently in line for the throne, but she 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 players of chess from the whole civilised world and pit them against each other. The prize? Fabulous wealth but also the honour of Christendom.
Roger Ascham, Elizabeth’s teacher and mentor, is determined to keep her out of harm’s way and also continue her education in the art of power and politics. Ascham resolves to take Elizabeth with him when he accompanies the English chess champion to the Ottoman capital. But once there, the two find more danger than they left behind. There’s a grotesque killer on the loose and a Catholic cardinal has already been found mutilated in the grounds of the palace. Ascham is asked by the Sultan to use his razor-sharp mind to investigate the crime. But as he and Elizabeth delve deeper into the murky world of the court and the glittering chess tournament, they find dark secrets, horrible crimes and unheard-of depravity. Things that mark the young princess for life and define the queen that she will become…