The Tournament is a historical fiction. This is a departure from the other books I’ve read by Matthew Reilly, who has written a series of pulse pounding fiction books. He proves what a versatile and excellent writer he is with this gem of a novel. The story is a fictionalized account in first person of young Queen Elizabeth I’s experience when she travels to Constantinople to witness a chess tournament, and her witness to other events that supposedly shape her views as a woman and a ruler.
The year is 1546, when young Elizabeth is 13 years old and is third in line to succeed her father, King Henry VIII. The king had also fathered a son, Edward (Elizabeth’s younger half brother) and another daughter, Mary (Elizabeth’s older half sister). Suleiman the Magnificent, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire had issued an invitation to all the kings in Europe to have their champion chess player compete with the Sultan’s best players. The young Princess Elizabeth finds herself as part of the entourage to go to Constantinople. That’s because her teacher, Roger Ascham, recommends to her father that it would be a good learning experience for Elizabeth. It’s also a way to keep her away from the Black Plague that is running rampant in their homeland.
Her travel to and stay in Constantinople is full of intrigue, mystery, murders, debauchery, and other scandalous incidents true to the period. She interacts with real-life famous people, including the likes of Michelangelo, Ignatius of Loyola (before he founded the religious order known as the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits), and Ivan IV, as a teen (he later becomes known as Ivan the Terrible). Weaved into the story is also a bit of history about the chess pieces; how they were first represented and later evolved to how they are now. Also equally interesting are some little known facts about certain Muslim practices and the power struggles between Christians and Muslims and between Catholicism and the other Christian religions.
Not to be missed are Reilly’s other books. I’ve listed below the books I’ve read and put them in the order of publication. He also wrote young adult books, but I haven’t read them, so they are not included here.
The Scarecrow Series:
The Jack West, Jr. Series:
Seven Deadly Wonders
The Six Sacred Stones
The Five Greatest Warriors
The Great Zoo China