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An Epic Struggle
on 7 September 2008
Tim Willocks' 'The Religion' is a tale of love and betrayal set against the violent and bloody backdrop of the 1565's Siege of Malta.
I was surprised on coming to write this review, that with 34 reviews already written, there hadn't been a single dissenter. Surprised, because I would have thought that, there would have been some people turned off by the heavy and elaborate prose, a few disturbed by the novel's extreme violence and some dismayed merely by the book's length. Finally, I had to wonder what I'd missed, because I found the book lacked anything to make it exceptional
There are a lots of positives in this novel and sections of 'The Religion' are second to none. Clearly Willocks has carried out extensive research, and the details of the siege and its two opposing armies ooze authenticity. The author also has an impressive command of the English language and there are paragraphs filled with delightful prose and sumptuous metaphors, which make for an enjoyable read. The battle scenes are particularly rich in description; I had never realised how many different ways there are of describing blood, gore and gristle.
For me though the novel in its entirety was disappointing. I found reading 'The Religion' like eating chocolate pudding; each individual battle scene is rich and enjoyable, but being forced to consume them one after another, rapidly diminished my enjoyment, until I felt sick, bloated and wished, never to read a fight scene again. The battles may be brilliantly described and lavishly orchestrated but there are just too many of them.
My second gripe is that the characters, although well described are somewhat derivative. We have the bold adventurer, quick with the sword, faster with his wit and seemingly without scruple, yet more honourable than everybody else in the novel. Next, the companion; a huge, strong and ferocious fighter, who eats a lot. An evil and corrupt priest and a cloistered noblewoman, who discovers her inner strength, make up a quartet of characters that could grace any number of fantasy novels that have far fewer literary pretensions.
Finally, a relatively small complaint. The book jacket implies that this book resonates with our times, presumably because it details a conflict between Islam and Christianity. Frankly, The Religion only pays lip service to the idea that religious conflict is futile and its assertion that power corrupts, is hardly earth-shattering.
Despite the characterisation not being entirely original, Willocks does make the reader care for his creations, and as the final days of the siege played out, I read gripped, wanting to know how each of the main protagonists would fair. After wading through mountains of blood and gristle to get there, the ending is both moving and compelling, if not ground-breaking. There is one truly gruesome twist at the end, which is possibly the biggest shock I have ever encountered in a novel, and that alone makes 'The Religion' worth reading. So overall, I would recommend 'The Religion', although not to the faint of heart or the short of time.