Title: The Tournament
Author: Matthew Reilly
Published: November 12th 2013
Publisher: Pan MacMillan Australia
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Adventure
Rating: 4 stars
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…
In November of last year, I attended a local Dymocks Books event where Matthew Reilly was interviewed, promoting his new book, The Four Legendary Kingdoms. I was surprised by how enthralled I was by Matthew Reilly, as I had not read any of his books prior to the event and in general, the genres he tends to write for do not appeal to me. However, one audience member at this event asked Reilly about one his books written in 2011, The Tournament. This question related to whether Reilly was going to write a sequel to The Tournament. In answering this question, Reilly gave a great plug for his book. So very soon after meeting Matthew Reilly, I took the plunge and read my first ever Matthew Reilly book. The result? I enjoyed it immensely!
In the opening of The Tournament, the ageing Queen Elizabeth I is dying and she finds herself reflecting on a great event that shaped her life as a young queen to be, a world chess tournament. In 1546, Princess Elizabeth and her loyal tutor Roger Ascham, made the pilgrimage to Constantinople to attend this revered event.This was the world’s greatest tournament of its time, arranged by the powerful Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire. The Sultan attracted some of the world’s best players to this prestigious event and pitted them against one another, such as Ivan the Terrible and Michelangelo. The Tournament is a book that uses a magnificent chess championship to highlight issues prevalent at the time, such as politics, philosophy, intrigue, spies, religion and culture.
I believe part of my enjoyment of The Tournament, came from the time period and the principle character. The main events of The Tournament are set in 1546 and follow Princess Elizabeth. It is no secret that I am fascinated by the tudor period and Elizabeth I is my favourite monarch. This novel offers a different take in the monarch, providing an alternative coming of age story. At the close of The Tournament, Reilly explains that the events he puts a young Princess Elizabeth through in the novel, although fictional, played an important role in the long term, shaping many of the decisions she made whilst on the throne.
Supporting Princess Elizabeth’s journey to the great chess event are a number of secondary characters. Roger Ascham, tutor to the princess, plays an important role in her life and in the events in the novel. Ascham becomes embroiled in a murder investigation at the chess event, looking into the mystery murder of a cardinal. He is a clever man and a compelling historical figure that I took great pleasure in reading more about his life. In addition, Princess Elizabeth is supported by a female character her friend Elsie, who plays a significant role in Elizabeth’s sexual awakening. It is for this reason that Reilly fans have been warned that these sections contain mature content. Roger and Princess Elizabeth also take with them England’s chess champion, Gilbert Giles. Although chess does not interest me at all, I found the sections involving the chess tournament very interesting.
Reilly works hard to build his setting. The stage for The Tournament is set very well, aided by Reilly’s blockbuster storytelling style. The inclusion of great figures of this era, such as Ivan the Terrible and Michelangelo,are fascinating additions to the narrative. The use of the murder mystery underpinning this famous event sets the tone for plenty of intrigue, which was a common occurrence in the royal and tudor courts of the time. My only difficulty with this book was the language. The phrasing used by the characters definitely requires a suspension of belief, as it didn’t quite fit the times, it seemed too modern, especially after I have read many books set in this period. However, the creative concept of this book was plenty enough for me to like this book.
The Tournament, my first Matthew Reilly novel, was a welcome read and one that I had fun reading from cover to cover. I really warmed to Reilly’s storytelling abilities and for this reason, I am prepared to read more from this talented Australian author, even though his books are outside my genre comfort zone!