Matthew Reilly brings his thrill-a-minute style of writing back to the 16th century as he populates his novel with historical figures caught up in intrigue, lust and a legendary chess tournament in the heart of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople.
A young English princess, Elizabeth Tudor, Bess, all of thirteen years old, accompanies her teacher Roger Ascham and their country’s chess champion, Giles, with Bess’ passionate and curious friend, Elsie keeping her company, journeys to the exotic city, to stay with the great Sultan, Suleiman, who is holding the great event.
There is intrigue, murder, illicit parties, and spies everywhere.
The chess tournament serves as backdrop for the main thrust of the story. Ascham is a brilliant teacher, and as Bess’ primary guardian she is at his side as the Sultan commissions him to solve a brutal murder on the palace grounds.
Told through the first person perspective, we follow Bess on part of the journey that will shape her into a Queen of England, the things she sees, experiences and learns will help craft her reign. I actually liked this idea, putting us inside the young Princess’ head, letting us share her thoughts and impressions, humanizing her as a person, not just a royal personage used as a character for a story.
As mentioned previously, I’m a fan of Reilly, and I love his storytelling style. While not filled with the breathless excitement of his Jack West novels, this one captivates, and I practically flew through it. While not the strongest murder mystery ever penned, the story, nonetheless is completely engaging, giving us a glimpse of a time we’ll never know, and people we can only read about.
Reilly brings the world in his usual evocative, detailed style, weaving the chess tournament, as well as some fascinating information about the game itself, into the narrative of his story. His books, for me, just can’t be put down.
This one slips into a little bit more adult territory, in regards to sexual content, than his other novels, but it’s done well, and isn’t intrusive, merely adding an unexpected, erotic flavor to some of the story as it explores the sexuality of a number of characters, their actions, and its results.
I did notice, that as he was using historical characters, locations, and legendary events, his tale is a little more grounded than his previous novels, impossible popcorn worthy action sequences are left by the wayside for a different kind of story and thrills, and his writing style seems to make itself right at home.
The thing I came away with from this most satisfying tale is the knowledge that Reilly can craft any sort of story, and I will be there to read it, because he is a master of pacing, beats, and writes a helluva book.