It was a real surprise when we got the new book from Matthew Reilly. Far from the techno-thrillers full of adrenalin-fuelled action and international conspiracy he’s known for, The Tournament is a historical murder mystery full of sex, death and political intrigue. Suffice to say, our surprise very soon turned to delight.
The setting was great, 16th century Constantinople and an international chess tournament opened by the Sultan, challenging all nations to send their best and brightest to compete. It had a great mystery, the body of a cardinal found fouling the ornate fountain in the Palace grounds, the lower half of his face flayed to the bone. Who would commit such a disturbing crime and why?
But it was the lead characters that really had us hooked. Roger Ascham, famous scholar and writer, is the man sent by Henry VIII to escort England’s chess champion and he’s certainly the guy you want on-side to untangle this gruesome puzzle. A student of logic and the study of cold, hard facts, Ascham is the kind of detective you want to succeed where his method is every bit as enthralling as the secrets he uncovers. A kind of 16th century Sherlock Holmes.
Every Holmes needs his Watson and Ascham has brought with him his young protégé, Princess Elizabeth, currently third in line to the throne. Deciding that some time away from England, where her older siblings consider her a threat, will do her some good, Roger convinces the king to let her accompany him to Constantinople to broaden her education.
Roger hasn’t only been tutoring her in Greek and Latin but also in the art of power, politics and the wielding of the two. The relationship between the pair is fantastic as we see the hero of the story shape the young girl into the beginnings of the powerful ruler we know she will become. To say that the mystery they solve together and the depravities they encounter change her is an understatement to say the least. In the tradition of introducing well-known characters in their formative years it works wonderfully as you witness the genesis of the ruler we came to know as the ‘Virgin Queen’.
If you’re a fan of a good, old-fashioned historical thriller filled with murder, conspiracy, political intrigue (with a dose of chess trivia thrown in for good measure), this book is well worth a read. A good, hearty romp that doesn’t fail to entertain.