The Tournament (2013) by Matthew Reilly

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Wow, it seems that Matthew Reilly has grown up. Hardly surprising if you’ve followed his story in the recent past. This novel is full of sex, violence, chess, sex, intrigue and sex. Plus there’s a bunch of sex.

Matthew Reilly has always been one of my favorite authors. Mostly because a Matthew Reilly novel is not particularly different than a movie. You sit down for two or three hours, bullets fly, some stuff explodes, someone drives a WRX like a skateboard and does a boardslide on a guardrail to aviod an oncoming truck before clipping a nearby helicopter which pushes the WRX back onto the road at the last second. You know, the usual…

‘The tournament’ however marks a significant departure from Matthew Reilly’s comfort zone. This is an interesting attempt to bring together several subjects that were clearly holding his attention this year. This novel is written predominantly from the perspective of Queen Elizabeth I of England as a 13 year old girl in the 1550s. It is a strange perspective to see but Reilly pulls it off with flourishes and twists that put Dan Brown’s 2013 offering Inferno to shame. Maybe I’m just impressed because there were no magical anti-bullet magnetic shields running about in the 16th century (just quietly there aren’t today either but the less said about the Jack West Jr Series the better).

In all honesty this is easily Reilly’s strongest novel to date and I hope it is a sign of things to come from one of my favorite authors. The novel takes place as young ‘Beth’ is wisked away to Constantinople by her teacher the famed Roger Ascham to see the world’s first ever international chess tournament. A keen player herself Beth is delighted by the opportunity to see sixteen of the finest players in the world compete but also by the stange sights and smells of this faraway land. I mentioned Dan Brown earlier for a reason. Both Inferno and The Tournament take place in Turkey (albeit at different times in history) and heavily feature the Haggia Sophia and the streets of Istanbul/Constantinople as their main locations. They are both excellent writers and novels but in this case I feel that the sights and smells and sounds brought to my inner eye by Reilly simply outstripped the Brown offering.

The feel of 16th century Turkey set firmly in your mind, Reilly takes you on a detective journey, reminiscent of ‘Sherlock Holmes’ or ‘Da Vinci’s Daemons’ while reveling in the atmosphere of a city under the spell of an event the likes of which had never been seen. The different factions that visit the city under the guise of attending the tournament are subtly drawn from more modern conceptions but that only helps to bridge the 500 year gap between today and the story’s setting. It is a complex juggling act but Mattew Reilly shows he is up to the task.

All told this is a very fine novel and very worthy of your next read. It is quite adult content so definately a parental guidance kinda thing…

4 Stars

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