Matthew Reilly sets up a unique novel with an unusual plot incorporating two different themes. The first subject is the use of Queen Elizabeth I as a young girl of 13 and the third in line for the crown when her father Henry VIII passes away. During this period of her life, possibly due to the small chance of becoming Queen, little was written about her and Reilly freely postulates her presence at the other event the book is concerned with.
The Sultan of Constantinople (now Istanbul) Suleiman, sends an invitation to rulers of several nations inviting them to send contestants to a Chess tournament to be held at his court. King Henry selects an individual to send and invites Roger Ascham, a noted scholar of the period and Elizabeth’s tutor, to accompany England’s contestant. Elizabeth begs for permission to travel with the group and goes along. While historical records seem to indicate that she never traveled very far from London during her lifetime, Reilly takes a long leap with literary license to chronicle her trip. The adventures the party encountered during the trip as well as those experienced during the visit to Constantinople, if really occurring, would have certainly contributed to Elizabeth’s worldly attitude towards her subsequent rule.
Elizabeth’s friend and companion Elyse goes with her and seems to be seeking sexual adventures at every turn. She manages to capture the imagination of the heir to the Russian throne and sleeps with him, imagining that he will select her as his bride. The unfortunate turn of events in Elyse’s adventure is suggested as being the reason for the later designation of Elizabeth as the virgin Queen.
The chess tournament is described in a way indicating the deep feelings adherents had about a game that mirrored battles and required skill and not luck. Murders of leading people occur during the tourney and Suleiman asks Roger Ascham to solve the mystery of who the murderers are. Ascham does so and introduces the probability of unethical and certainly evil conduct on the part of the sultan and members of his court.
Obviously there is a free use of literary license Reilly both in the events postulated as well as the interjection of world famous personages such as Michelangelo attending the tourney, but the novel is an entertaining read. It should be read as “possibly” occurring and providing a picture of events and action in 1546 with a young Elizabeth experiencing a set of circumstances which would have molded her later character and actions.
7/15 Paul Lane
THE TOURNAMENT by Matthew Reilly. Gallery Books (July 21, 2015). ISBN: 978-1476749549. 320p.