26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
A humdinger of a Book, 13 Mar 2007
I admit I was sceptical. I have always been suspicious of novels surrounding the Great Siege of Malta, possibly because it is the story of my own homeland. For such a significant episode in history, it has been largely passed-over in favour of others. Knowing the background and the places in which the events occurred, so well, I was anxious as to what I might find within the pages of "The Religion".
I was therefore pleasantly surprised. As a writer Willocks grips you straight into the first chapter. He combines high-flown poetic imagery with desciptions of the basest of human emotions and vices. The juxtaposition of the two make for a roller-coaster ride with very few pauses along the way.
The story follows the exploits of one Mattia Tannhauser, a Saxon-born ex-Janissary turned adventurer based in 16th century Sicily, who is persuaded by the Grand Master of the Order of St. John, via the palpable charms of the Maltese Contessa Carla and her fey companion Amparo, to lend his aid to the Order in the fight against the might of the Ottoman Empire. The Contessa engages him to help her find her illegitimate son left behind in Malta when she was forcibly married off. Their search, compounded by the siege and the malevolent presence of Ludovico Ludovici, representative of the Inquisitor General and father of Carla's bastard son, is only the main thread that weaves through a whole tapestry of events.
Willocks' account of siege warfare, the glory, the honour, the desperation, savagery and gore, place the reader forcibly in its midst. His main character, due to his background, is uniquely able to cross the lines of battle allowing the reader to observe the behaviour of both sides. He uses this perspective to voice the eternal duality of human nature, that while admitting to revel in the violence, he raises us up through love, philosophy and music and continually points out the futility of it all, a message as relevant then as it is now. There is no black or white in this book, both sides are painted realistically warts and all.
If you are looking for a book that you will find unable to put down and characters that engage you with their trials and tribulations, look no further.