The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

The Tournament
Matthew Reilly
Macmillan Publishing

The Tournament represents a departure from Matthew Reilly's usual big screen inspired adventure stories.  Set in 1546, it is a novel about an international chess tournament that takes place in the Hagia Sophia, Constantinople under the command of the formidable Sultan Suleiman.  And the main character of the book is none other than the 13 year old Princess Elizabeth Tudor.

I had never read anything by Matthew Reilly up to this point.  His books never really seemed to be for me, and they probably weren't, but when I heard that his newest book was set in the Tudor Period, my little ears pricked up.  Tudors, you say?  Well count me in!  Of course I promptly received the book and then relegated it to one of the many towering piles of books I have yet to read.  Then, I found out that Matthew Reilly was going to be on Australian Story this Monday just past.  I was reading something else at the time, something good but slow going and fairly depressing.  And I was on holidays, so really, who wants to slog through something like that.  I thought to myself, no, stuff it, I'm going to dig out The Tournament.

I was nearly finished it by the time Australian Story went to air.  I won't go into detail of the program because I can be pretty sure most of you saw it, but suffice to say that this book is a triumph all the more so because of how hard it must have been for Matthew to make himself write it.

When the young Princess Bess and her teacher Roger Ascham accompany the King's Champion to Constantinople, they are in for a feast of the mind, but they do not count on the series of gruesome murders which will take place during the games.  Roger has a reputation as a clever man, a logical man, and the Sultan approaches him to solve the murders discreetly so that the games will not be spoiled.  Bess goes along as Ascham's assistant, and in the process, learns many of the precepts by which she will come to be known as a ruler.  The young Bess is an amazingly well drawn character, a young woman who is both a keen observer and narrator, as well as a likeable and realistic figure, but it is her teacher who truly shines.  Through Bess's eyes, Ascham is the hero of the novel not because of his dashing but because of his brilliant mind.

The book is exciting and well paced- a real read in one sitting type of story, and the mystery itself has been carefully considered so that not a piece is out of line.  The inclusion of many facts about chess provide an interesting metaphor for the medieval court system.

I was glad to see that Reilly had included a warning at the beginning of his book that this was not for younger readers, as there are many scenes of a gratuitous sexual nature.  As the author explains in the interview at the back of the text, he wanted to provide some sort of context that might lead to the Queen later eschewing sexual intercourse as an unnecessary political diversion.  I do like the way that the almost stale facts about Elizabeth's later life are given fresh and plausible context in the book.

The Tournament is exciting, intelligent, well researched and well paced.  In short, I really enjoyed reading this book.