Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Tournament

by Matthew Reilly
310 pgs

The Tournament is a departure from Reilly's typical action-packed thrillers. It's not an installment in either of his on-going series featuring Jack West or Scarecrow and uncharacteristically the earth never comes within seconds of being completely destroyed. Instead, it's a 16th century mystery that takes place during a chess tournament in Turkey.

Contingents from all over the world have gathered in Constantinople to attend the Sultan's first World Chess Championship. They've brought their regions' local champion and hope to return home with the title and reward.

Bess, the thirteen-year old daughter of Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII, who will eventually grow up to become Queen Elizabeth I, is among those gathered for the tournament. She traveled with her tutor Roger Ascham, her friend Elsie, and England's champion.

At the beginning of the tournament, one of the Cardinals traveling with the Catholic contingent is discovered murdered with the skin peeled away from his entire jaw. Ascham is enlisted by the Sultan to investigate the murder, and as the multi-day tournament goes on, the bodies continue to show up.

The Tournament is a mystery, but it's also a coming-of-age story. Ascham, knowing that there's a chance that his student may one day become England's monarch, includes Bess in his investigation. He believes that someone who may one day rule shouldn't live a sheltered life, so he allows her to see the uglier side of life.

No summary of this book should leave out a warning of the sexual content of the story. Bess's friend Elsie has aspirations of becoming the bride of the Sultan's son, and she believes the only way that will happen is if she works her way into his bed by sleeping with everyone close to him. And each time she returns from a night spent in the Sultan's bathhouses and exclusive gatherings, she recounts her progress to Bess in extremely vivid detail.

The Tournament isn't Reilly's best book by far. And if I didn't have a condition that forces me to finish any book I start, I would have given up on this one about a third of the way through. But I made it to the end, and the conclusion actually salvaged the book a little for me.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

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