The Religion, by author Tim Willocks, is set upon the island of Malta in 1565 and follows the exploits of Mathias Tannhauser, an adventurer and mercenary who embarks on a mission to locate a Maltese Noblewoman's estranged son. This quest is set during the time and true events of the great siege of Malta, which pitched the Knight's Hospitaller and people of Malta against the combined forces of the Ottoman Empire and its allies, one of the last great crusader battles.

The Religion is an extremely well-researched and equally well-written novel but whilst large parts of the book are devoted to battle scenes, the prose does not adopt a descriptive, repetitive or hackneyed style; in fact the descriptions of combat are brutal, gory, poetic and written in a gripping style full of suspense with larger than life heroes and villains as the combatants.


The plot of The Religion is enthralling ensuring that this book is not simply a vessel for recounting the events of this historic, real-life, siege, a trap that some similar books fall into, and using the drama of the events the author weaves a tale that continues beyond the siege. In any other book the continuation of the story beyond the conclusion of this dramatic battle would feel like an anti-climax, but not here, readers will truly want to find out what happens to the main protagonists.

Key to this level of suspense are the characters created by the author. As well as having some very prominent and heroic real-life characters to extrapolate on the author has created some really interesting characters of his own, pitting a flawed hero against an extremely dark and sly foe; Ludovico Ludovici of the Inquisition. Those that feature in this book are very reminiscent of the type of old swashbuckling movies I used to like when I was young with heroes that you want to cheer, villains that you want to boo with a heroine you fall in love with and a whole load of buxom wenches, filthy peasants and gnarled soldiers thrown in for good measure.

Quite frankly, the combination of interesting characters, gripping plot and incredible action made this book hard to put down and is written with such literary mastery that it feels like a future classic. Apart from anything it is enjoyable to read, a lot of good fun and has the feel that a movie should be made from it.

Of course, any novel featuring such an historical event is bound to dwell a lot upon war. This book does not beautify or glorify war at all and although some of the historical characters want to turn events into a noble and chivalrous quest, the author portrays the brutality in a sometimes stomach-turning fashion. One of the strengths of the battle scenes is the balanced fashion in which they are depicted, avoiding turning one side into the "goodies" or the :baddies"; these roles are reserved for the individual characters with the story itself.



The Religion is highly recommended to all those readers who enjoy old-fashioned swashbuckling adventures and historical fiction because with this novel Willocks shows himself to be a very fine author. If you are thinking of trying historical fiction for the first time you could not choose better with this book.

Score: 10/10
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