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on 13 April 2017
fantastic read loved it
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on 26 November 2014
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on 22 March 2017
great read
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on 19 July 2006
After being sent a proof copy of this book I must admit to looking forward to reading it. There had been a lot of positive buzz on this book and I could not wait to see what the fuss was about.

Set in 1565 this novel revolves around the fact that Suleiman the Magnificent, Emperor of the Ottomans would like nothing better than to wipe the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem from the face of the earth. With this in mind he dispatches the largest flotilla in time immemorial to accomplish this task and so the scene is set for one of the most vicious sieges the world has ever known. Whilst this is going on a noblewoman desperately wants to return to the Island, to the Fortress of the Knights, to search for her lost child, an attempt that has been in vain until she requests the help of infamous fortune-hunter to help her run the blockade in set in place. Meanwhile a member of the Spanish Inquisition seeks to imprison her and will do anything in his sadistic grip to capture her.

This is all set around one of the most harrowing and epic sieges in antiquity. A word of warning this book is not for the faint of heart, from the gory prologue to the end of the book there is a lot of violence and blood. Tim Willocks captures the very essence of what it was like to live and breathe in this time and he brings this to the page perfectly which makes for a gripping read. Once I reached the Siege sequence I was very hard put to leave the book. That was possibly one of the greatest parts of any novel I have ever read creating scenes so epic that I was hard put for a comparison to anything I have ever read. Tim Willocks must have put a huge amount of time into researching the time as well as the Siege of Malta as he grasps every historical detail drawing the reader in. There are elements of religion as the events in this book resonate in today's world as much as they did 500 years ago.

What I loved most was the set of characters that drive the story forward from Mattias Tannhauser who really is a product of circumstances beyond his control to the vile and evil Inquisitor Ludovico Ludovici. Each one of these characters has had a lot of time and effort put into them which really sums up the whole book. Tim Willocks has worked hard to create a gripping and very realistic tale set around a brutal time where it was survival of the strongest.
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on 11 June 2007
THE RELIGION by Tim Willocks.

Picture this.

It is the year 1565. The Emperor of the Ottomans has despatched a huge armada. They set sail to Malta. Where they will face the Christian Knights of St John of Jerusalem. What follows is a huge fictional account, penned by Tim Willocks. The Island of Malta is besieged. Against this mighty struggle between these two opposing armies, enters Mattias Tannhauser.

THE RELIGION is a powerhouse historical novel. The best I have ever read. The seven hundred plus pages, just raced.

Mattias Tannhauser is the central character. He is completely unique. He can be brutal. He can be as barbaric as the enemy he is fighting. Yet he possesses an amazing and deep sincerity. He would rate well, with many modern day fictional heroes. He can be and occasionally is, manipulating. He can be as ferocious as the occasion dictates. Perhaps, even more so to those he considers his enemy. But to his friends, to his comrades in arms, he is a man to be relied upon. To be trusted with their lives.

The battle scenes are, in parts, horrendously graphic. This is not a book for the squeamish. Yet again, the love that blossoms between Mattias and Carla, and his `blood red rose`, Amparu, reveal the deeply passionate and emotional side of his character.

The story is a quest. Carla, has asked Mattias, to locate her young son. He is currently on the island of Malta, shortly to be besieged by the Turks. The Christian Knights of St John, are determined never to let the Island fall, to the followers of Islam. Through this mayhem, at times fighting for the Christians, and other times, having to fight against them, Mattias endeavours to locate the boy.

I do end this review with some warnings. The first, be prepared to be utterly caught up in the exploits of Mattias, and his comrades and of the two women he loves. The second, be ready to be shocked at the way in which warfare in the 16th century was conducted. The third, Be prepared to shed a tear through parts of this book. I did. The last two chapters, especially, will stay with me a long time.

This is an enthralling novel.
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on 13 March 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.
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on 11 March 2007
"The Religion" takes the reader back to the summer of 1565 as the Ottoman Turks are laying siege to Malta. Only the Knights Hospitallers - who call themselves 'The Religion' - stand in the way of their ambition to take the island and pave the way for the conquest of the western Mediterranean. Caught in the midst of this conflict is the Lady Carla, searching for the son she has not seen since the day of his birth, and the hero of the piece, Mattias Tannhauser, an adventurer, trader and rogue she recruits to assist her in this seemingly impossible task. At the same time they are being purused by the scheming Inquisitor Ludovico Ludovici. As the father of Carla's child he is intent first and foremost on foiling Tannhauser and finding the boy for his own purposes, but he has another goal too: to infiltrate and subvert The Religion itself, and ultimately to bring it under the control of Rome.

This is an epic tale with tremendous vision, a combination of romance and intrigue and action that never lets up its pace. The language is beautiful throughout and almost poetic at times, the dialogue in particular being especially well crafted, archaic without being cliched. The main characters are all well-rounded and it is easy to identify and sympathise with them despite their faults - even in the case of the twisted Ludovico. Most importantly, Willocks really makes you feel as if you were there during that long, hot, gruelling summer. He has clearly researched the period thoroughly and has a fantastic eye for detail, such that all his locations are brought to life.

At the same time there is no denying that it is an extremely violent book, and indeed Willocks seems to take delight in his graphic descriptions of the full and bloody horrors of war in the 1500s. Unfortunately this seems to be responsible for the book's lukewarm reception by many reviewers in the broadsheets. But while the violence might not be to everyone's taste, there is far more to this book than that and if you can see beyond it you will find that this is a truly brilliant piece of writing.

By all measures "The Religion" is an excellent book - gripping, thrilling and immersive. It undoubtedly ranks as one of my all-time favourites.
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on 20 October 2008
This is the only book I have read where I've had to have a shower after each sitting.


The plot is reasonably well formed, but certainly not the strong point of the book, and the characters are credible and vivid but some fall too easily into stereotypes and characters of convenience - which if we're honest is a frequent problem in historical novels. It is the descriptions of the Seige of Malta and the intensity of the combat which set this book apart from any before it, whether fact or fiction.

No other book I have read or have heard of has depicted fighting so clearly, without any dramatic filters. This is combat through a camcorder, not a studio. And do not think that this realism detracts from the book's literary quality and readability - it forms it.

The searing heat, dehydration, terror, chronic exhaustion, wounds, and sickness are brought starkly into perspective. One of the best passages is one where the hero is involved in fighting off yet another attack, and the reader is introduced to his claustrophobic, armour-encased world, where he is reduced to talking himself through his physical movements out loud - block..breathe..step..breathe..thrust.. breathe..etc. - and another scene where two opposing fighters having to negotiate a temporay truce with each other so that they can regain their breath and strength before continuing to hack at each other.

I knew little about the Seige of Malta before reading THE RELIGION, but felt as though I'd learnt the entire history once I'd finished it.

This book is genre-leading, with a depth that the Cornwells, Scarrows, and Igguldens for example do not have (it is twice as long for a start).

A truly oustanding work. Make sure the hot water's on before reading.
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VINE VOICEon 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.
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on 12 June 2006
I've just finished a proof copy of this book and quite simply,it is one of the most exciting books I've read in years.Even though it's a long book, it's a real 'page turner' from the very start.

Highly recommended!
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