on 27 October 2012
Simon Scarrow is one of very few authors whose new book I'll buy without checking synopsis or previews, and this doesn't disappoint. It's a very personal view - so necessarily one-sided - of the Siege of Malta by a once-disgraced knight, who is summoned to the desperate fight to halt the advance of the Moslem armies. There are plenty of bloody battle scenes, reflecting the desperate plight of the Christian defenders and the determination of their enemy. The hero has grown to doubt his belief in God, a heretical view in those times; we may wonder at the fanaticsm, and the willingness of the knights and others to "die for the faith" rather than surrender, but it makes for a gripping read. A natural five-star read.
This book covers an amazingly complex time in history, and a particularly thorny issue in modern times. In nearly 450 years we really have not come that far in terms of religion. What amazes me is how little I knew about the siege of Malta and the total change it would have had on the face of europe if the Knights of the Order of St John had lost.
I have been to Malta a few times and have seen so many of the places, stood on some of the streets and monuments written about in this book, and yet I still didn't truly comprehend the momentous battle that took place. To have lost would have probably meant the sweep of Islam into western Europe, changing the entire face of history. There are very few times in history when the world and its current order have been balanced on a knife-edge.
Other moments in time that spring to mind (with great books attached) The Mongols sweeping into Europe, if not for the death of Ogedai they would have carried on unstoppable all the way to the English Channel and beyond (read Conn Igguldens Conqueror series) also the battle at Marathon, where a Greek loss would have meant Greece falling under the dominion of Persia, there would have been no classical period, there may possibly have been no Rome or at best a greatly altered Rome. So much art and culture lost and changed, the whole mediterranean dynamic would have changed, (Read the Long War series by Christian Cameron).
When you understand the above it makes the writing of this books seem so ambitious to border on nuts. Yet Simon Scarrow in his own unique style provides the perfect narrator in the form of Sir Thomas Barrett. As usual the lead character engages the reader from the start, you sympathise with his situation in life and root for his underdog situation, and sympathise with the way life has treated him, the book makes you feel the characters. Then you add in his vivid description of the places, the battles, both sides of the fight. He brings to life the roar of the cannon, the desperation of the siege and the courage of both the defenders and the fanatical courage of the attackers.
The bravest part of this book though, has to be the perfect balancing act between Christianity and Islam. At no point does Simon denigrate either religion, he doesn't push an agenda for either religion, he just tells you what happened and leaves you to think for yourself about the insanity religion brought, brings and will keep bringing to this world. Killing in the name of doctrine differences is wrong, but that is my conclusion, not Simons, he provided me the history and the framework to make that decision, and he did it with an amazingly engaging read.
This is Simons best work to date and well worth £10 of anyones money
1565; In its hour of greatest need, Malta must rely upon the ancient Knights of the Order of St John for survival. Bound by the strongest ties: of valour, of courage and of passion, the Knights must defend their island against ferocious and deadly Ottoman attack. For Sir Thomas Barrett, summoned by the Order and compelled by loyalty - to the Knights, to his honour and to his Queen - returning to the besieged island means revisiting a past he had long since lain to rest. As the beleaguered Knights grapple to retain control, decade-old feuds will be reawakened, intense passions rekindled and deadly secrets revealed.
on 10 June 2013
This book was such fun to read! I had never read anything by Simon Scarrow but without doubt, I will now be looking out for more work by him, he certainly knows how to write historical fiction.
I'll kick off with my only criticism;, I will be brutally honest - the cover was dreadful, it looked schmaltzy and really not the sort of thing I would enjoy; it looked like a 3 for 2 at Waterstones, which I usually walk past! However, once you get into the story you are left with little doubt - he writes so well and for once, I think the word `compelling' would be appropriate to describe his fiction; he has an excellent ability to paint vivid scenes using words so cleverly that you can picture exactly in your mind what he is writing about. And on occasion, this is so unbelievably gory that it's not such a good thing!
The story starts with a brilliantly well-described battle at sea. This isn't a genre that I have ever really read, but Scarrow's narrative brought it to life and I could picture the fights, the fear, the excitement, extremely well. He really is talented! He tells the story of Sir Thomas Barrett, a Knight of the Order of St John who is brought in to fight against the Ottoman army in the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. Sir Thomas is completely in love with a woman he meets when they are both very young, Maria, and this is a major storyline throughout the book alongside the strategy and fighting that Scarrow depicts. I really don't `do' romances but admit that I was utterly engrossed in their story and found it a perfect foil to the more brutal fight scenes.
We are taken through the machinations, politicking and fighting that was involved in the Great Siege and much of what was going on behind the throne in England at that time; we learn about how people fight for themselves and family when backed into a corner, we get to know characters, see them lost in battle, find huge sympathy and understanding for their motives - and ultimately - certainly for myself I was mulling over some of the threads from the story a fair few weeks later on! That speaks for itself, to be honest. This is not only perfect holiday fiction for the summer, it's a great historical read, it's a believable love story and above all, a great page turner! I would thoroughly recommend this book to anybody - and best of all - I got to see Scarrow at the Hay Festival, which was just a brilliant way to round it off! Lovely book, don't hesitate to buy it for yourself or as a gift for somebody - it's a knock out!
on 7 May 2013
Simon Scarrow has again managed to write a gripping tale about the seige of Malta in 1565. It draws the reader in and doesn't disappoint.
It is told by a Knight of St John, disgraced but called back in the Islands hour of need. There's a love story told against the backdrop of the seige as the knights and the Maltese people battle against the invading Turkish armies sent by Suleiman to crush the Christians and bring Allah to all nations. There are bloody battle scenes as the great Muslim leaders Turgut and Mustafa Pasha lay seige to Malta. Our hero Sir Thomas has his own struggle with his beliefs but his allegiance to the order of St John and the cause never waver. A thoroughly gripping read which I couldn't put down.
Having listened to Simon Scarrow on a book tour and also having just returned from Malta, I decided to give this a go. It's certainly full of action, but at times I found the description of battles and fights difficult to imagine. It just wasn't building a picture in my head. Still I would recommend this if you are interested in the history of Malta and the Knights Templers.
on 13 November 2012
This is fairly straightforward blood, guts, action and romance story - with the obligatory lost document that could unseat Elizabeth and plunge England in to chaotic civil war.
The interesting part is the choice of background - the siege of Malta. This was an amazing action - less than 10,000 against 35-40,000 with the larger army having the better arms and considerably greater quantities of supplies. By rights, the Christians in Malta should have been swept away in the same manner that they lost Rhodes. Why they didn't, is really the stuff of legend.
So, those are the facts, now we have Simon Scarrow writing a novel about it. Let's face it, you don't need too much of a back story to write a nerve tingling novel about a siege where the besieged don't stand a snowball's chance in hell of survival. So why introduce: a love triangle; a document that could create chaos; and, a man in search of his origins (or is he?)?
I found this book to be really quite weak. Basically, I think all the characters are one dimensional and - sorry Simon - but he has totally misread Walsingham and Cecil. He has probably done this to push the story along - but most (if not all) biographers are adamant that these two worthies worked themselves in to the grave for the betterment of Elizabeth, England and Protestantism (in that order). They weren't self seekers - and the idea of using a document to "blackmail" Elizabeth isn't fictional licence, it's mental derangement.
Similarly, Henry VIII would not bow to Rome again - he needed power in his own kingdom and he would not have traded this in for potential salvation. To have thought to return to Catholicism would have disinherited his only son - Likely? I think not!
The siege of Malta has been covered by other novelists (Tim Willocks "The Religion" for example), but if you really want to read a good book about it, try Roger Crowley's "Empires of the Sea".
It would be interesting to consider what would have happened had Malta fallen - would Lepanto have been fought, or would Europe have become Turkish? We'll never know.
This novel felt rushed. Poor dialogue, cardboard characters, tired storylines, and - worst of all - it was all so totally predictable.
I accept that I am a lone voice in saying that this book is a "donkey", but I really feel that SS needs to slow his output down.
on 21 November 2012
I have read all of the eagle series and the revolution series and loved them both. The eagle series in particular is one of my favourites. This book is quite dire in comparison. You don't have any feeling towards the one dimensional characters and in fact rather boring. The plot plods along and the twists are predictable in the end. I respect scarrow a lot by taking a piece of history that is not well known but he could have done SO much better because I know he can. Now i am looking forward to the next book of the eagle series which i hope is coming out soon...
on 17 June 2013
This epic tale starts with a sea battle in the Mediterranean between the Christian Knights of St. John and the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire, this sets the scene for what is to come later. On one of the captured ships, Sir Thomas Barrett discovers a woman who has been kidnapped and thus begins his downfall as they start a doomed affair which goes against everything the Knights stand for.
When they are discovered Sir Thomas is banished from Malta and so begins 20 years of fighting as a mercenary in Europe not knowing what has happened to the love of his life Maria.
When he is summoned back to Malta to help the Knights defend Christendom and Malta against Sultan Suleiman and the Turks he is determined to find out what has happened to Maria once and for all.
With the added mystery of being told to retrieve a lost document in Malta that if made public could tear England apart, an accompanying squire who is not what he seems, bloody battle scenes, being outnumbered 7 to 1 by the Turks, romance, treachery, revenge.....this is not a book for the faint-hearted though it is a very good read!
Sir Thomas is the kind of man who you would want at your side in a battle, he's strong, courageous and skilled at arms. He's also a good person who is utterly trustworthy and I was really rooting for him.
This is a historical tale of the Great Siege of Malta, something of which I knew nothing about, and the author really brings to life how brave the citizens of Malta, together with the Knights of St John, were in their fight against the might of the Ottoman Empire. Fascinating stuff.
on 10 May 2013
Sword and Scimitar follows the story of Sir Thomas, a knight of the order of St. John, through the siege of Malta. In the 16th century the main threat was the Sultan's Muslim army, and this novel charts the struggle against the invasion.
I had not read any of Scarrow's books before, and had a few misgivings in the first few chapters. It is not politically correct, Muslims are called every name under the sun during fights, this does make the reader feel uncomfortable. It is corrected when the main character realises that faith does not make someone subhuman, so stick with it. There's a lot of detailed fighting and some quite gruesome moments. If you want to know the techniques and strategies used in battle at that time, then you will learn a lot reading this. I'd never heard of the siege of Malta before, so did not know what was going to happen next, and I think this is a definite advantage.
It was the story that made me carry on reading. Concepts of honour, and love are explored, and this could make this novel appeal to a wider audience. The love story is quite sweet, if somewhat predictable. There's a decent subplot involving spying for Elizabeth 1, and that does add a great deal to the book. The characters are all well written and are not two dimensional. The main character is your basic decent guy, who se circumstances conspire against him.
This may appeal to fantasy readers because there is definitely something epic about this story. Reading groups would have a lot to talk about, from the history, depiction of races, to the love story and characters. A decent read.
on 7 May 2013
I have usually steered clear of Simon Scarrow in the past, as there is a bit of a perception of him being a 'man's author'. I've always been interested in the Knights Hospitaller, Templars et al and thought that this would be a good book to acquaint me with the authors style.
Set in 1565, Sword & Scimitar is not only the story of the siege of Malta, it is also the story of Sir Thomas Barrett. Barrett was banished from the order when he fell in love with a noblewoman promised to another, whom he had rescued during one of the book's many sea battles.
20 years after his banishment, Sir Thomas is recalled to the order to held defend their stronghold on Malta against the encroaching Islamic armies. He is also charged with recovering a document, believed to have been in the possession of one of his fellow knights. This document could have serious repercussions for the British Crown if it fell into the wrong hands. He is charged with taking one of the governments pies with him as a squire, and helping him recover the document.
Sir Thomas returns to Malta to find that old friends are there to welcome and forgive him, but that old enemies still bear a grudge.
I thoroughly enjoyed Sword & Scimitar. The fact that it was set in a period of time that I find interesting doubtless helped. However, Scarrow's understanding of his characters and knowledge of the period, greatly enhanced the book. Sir Thomas is an intriguing character; a skilled knight; ruthless and at times arrogant, he is also fiercely loyal and capable of great love. For his comrades as well as his lost love.
I will freely confess to shedding a few tears during the course of the book. The characters are so richly drawn that it is easy to get attached to them!
The only tiny, tiny criticism I have is maybe a girl thing; some of the descriptions of the sea battles and military strategem were a little over long. I found my mind wondering off a little at times. However, I would still rate this book very highly as it is a fabulous story, well written and still very pacey.