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Where the hero (and a few other things) spoils the story...
on 13 December 2011
I received this book (hardcover version) very shortly after it was published, read it, mostly enjoyed it, but then failed to write a review, mainly because I had been rather disapointed. I decided to do so largely because I simply cannot agree with the statement made by some reviewers that Napier is "back to his best". The best was the first in his Attila's series, which, as many others, I have also read. It very much remains so. This book, while exciting, does not compare well with it, simply because it is let down and spoilt by its main character and with the author's excessive attempts to portray a boy as a "super-hero".
The "hero" is a totally implausible 16-year old, whose heroïc actions during the siege, after a few days training on board a ship on its way from England to Rhodes, are such as to almost overshadow the real deeds of the Knights, infantry and town militia. At times, I had the impression of reading an adventure story for teenagers. Since this was not what I was expecting, I got rather annoyed. As for the (historical) death of Dragut, possibly the most capable Ottoman commander during the siege, our hero had, of course, historically nothing to do with it.
This is a pity because these flaws tend to distract from some much better pieces and this is why I would rate the book three stars, despite having been so critical). One is the depiction of La Valette, which fitted to the image I had of him, from his surrender at Rhodes, where he was one of the Order's young Knights, to his role in the defense of Malta. This ageing and fanatical warrior (or a few others) would have made a much more plausible (if less "sexy") hero, especially since the siege was essentially the fight that he has been preparing himself for during most of his life, in fact ever since the Order had to leave Rhodes. Another piece which would have been of interest, instead of only focusing (once again) on the siege, would have been to write the story of what happened to the Order specifically, and in the Mediterranean, more generally, between the fall of Rhodes (1522) and the siege of Malta over 40 years latter (1565). Something like a romanced version of Roger Crowley's Empires of the Sea build around La Valette would, in my mind, have been much better...