on 25 March 2013
Simon Turney has produced another gripping story, This time about Istanbul in 1480. The story about two boys one forced to become a janissary the other absconds to become a thief really grabs the imagination,
The eventual plot that they become embroiled in carries one along at a fast pace and gives the reader a sense of the great changes that took place in the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century
Like Turney's other series Marius Mules, he gives a great slant to the period. A Well Recommended Read.
on 31 May 2013
I read a lot of historical fiction and because of my interest in ancient Greece and Rome most of my reading is from those genres. So it was with some trepidation that I ventured out of my interest zone and picked up SJA Turney's The Thief's Tale, a tale that takes place in 15th century Istanbul. This trepidation was tempered by the fact that I have read other books by Mr. Turney; most notably the Marius Mules series, and was confident that he could write an excellent story no matter the historical time frame involved.
The story is a fictional account of a power struggle between two brothers vying for control of The Ottoman Empire and how another pair of brothers, one of them a Muslim Janissary, the other a Christian(at least nominally) street thief who find themselves irrevocably involved in a plot to assassinate the current ruling brother. The characters, both main and ancillary, are meticulously crafted as the author has done his research on not only the time period but also of Constantinople/Istanbul. The story flows seamlessly to its exciting climax which ironically involves a true historical fact; a lightning strike that hit Istanbul in 1491.
One of the major story lines reflects one of our foremost contemporary problems, the religious or ethnic intolerance between Muslim, Christian and Jew. Istanbul in 1491 could easily be Teheran or Jerusalem in 2013. The thief often finds himself dwelling on the paradox of three religions that worship the same God and yet are continually at each other's throats competing for supremacy. The author, while offering no insight or solution to this worldwide threatening issue does inject the story with enough ironic situations that made me once again ask the question, why?
As with any good story that has sequels in mind, The Thief's Tale leaves the reader turning the last page and hoping that the sequel has already been written. The Thief's Tale is well worth leaving your genre comfort zone.
on 27 August 2014
This is a well written,thriller set in fifteenth century Istanbul.The story moves at a cracking pace and the editing is faultless; no intrusive grammatical lapses. There is considerable reliance on coincidence as a plot device but this does not detract much from this novel's entertainment value.The characters are interesting and well depicted.
The book works well as entertainment and that is the main criterion, in my view, by which to judge it. I do not have the historical knowledge to decide about its period accuracy but it seemed credible. It passed one acid test;though, I bought the next book in the series
on 10 January 2015
Excellent mini series read back to back are there to be more. I for one find the authors style of writing easy on the eye and a very interesting story crossing the two main religions and showing good and evil on both sides a well balanced series of books I for one will seek out more from this author and wish him luck and hope he produces many more enjoyable 'historical fiction' accounts.
This latest title from the fantastic SJA Turney felt like a bit of a double edged sword to begin with. I don't read very many books set in
that part of history, there is just to much religion for my liking. That part of history and its events mainly controlled by the church or religion. But I'm starting to change that opinion, finally some writers are making it different. Jack Hight, Simon Scarrow
and now SJA Turney.
The Thief's Tale follows the trials and tribulations of two Greek brothers, brothers caught up in the compulsory conscription of the Ottoman Janissary's. Their lives take a dramatic divergent difference on entering the great city of Istanbul/ Constantinople. Skiouros the youngest, vanishing into the underbelly of the city to become live by his wits and speed. His brother Lykaion conditioned into one of the deadly Janissary's that helped make the Ottoman Empire one of the biggest the world had seen.
The 2 brothers find themselves through a singular incident caught up in the power play for the empire and their lives are soon under threat. Can they run fast enough? should they run, where do they go? what do they do?
Simon Turney once again weaves a fantastic fast paced well researched atmospheric tale that sucks the reader back in time into the mix of the dirty streets and dangerous politics. His skill is always in educating whilst entertaining and this book does it in spades.
I'm very much impatient for book 2 and shall be haranguing him to get it written (once he finishes Marius Mules 5. If you have not read that series you have 4 amazing books awaiting you.)
(Parm... Yes as in Capt Parmenio... read the book you will see. and it still makes me smile now writing this review)
full author Q&A on my blog
on 1 July 2015
This book is almost a case study of how an author is allowed to create his own rules within his own work, as long as they are consistent (unless, of course, he builds inconsistency in as a rule). The book is built on a couple of real historical events and around historical buildings of Istanbul, but the main plot and the main characters are all fictional. Also, so consistently built that a reader can assume the events might as well have taken place. And with this, Simon might give future historians a headache, as once a book that does that reaches classical status it becomes much better at entering the collective memory than a scholastic work. It doesn't even matter that the author himself puts a disclaimer at the end.
And Skiouros, our hero, is likable enough. He's innocent and mostly open and honest about his intentions, while it's also got plenty of flaws that make it easy for the reader to feel a connection: he's a thief, lowlife, without any ambitions or goals. He's a drifter, basically, though a drifter no older than 24, though likely quite a bit younger than that. And Skiouros story will take him throughout the city of Istanbul where he's spent the last eight years of his life and where, in the space of a week in 1490, the circumstances will take him in close proximity of some of the most powerful men of the day and will transform his life forever. Skiourous' story is fascinating enough, but the way Simon creates situations and twists makes this book a proper thriller, with twists and new developments coming in fast and thick, guaranteed to lose the reader some sleep.
And because Simon is not tied to a real historical narrative, we are completely in the dark, never knowing what's going to happen next. I feared for Skiouros' life quite a few times and I was surprised at the sudden brutality with which Simon disposes of some people, It's like he suddenly found his inner George R.R. Martin.
I will say this more: the end surprised me quite a bit. This being the Ottoman Cycle, I expected to be introduced to a hero and see life in Istanbul through his eyes over the course of four years. This does not happen and to a reader this unknown course of events and surprising turns are a rich reward.
If I was to correct anything, I would say Simon is too in love with the historical Istanbul and some pages are going towards talking about that: streets, period colouring, buildings, buildings' interiors, clothing, the looks of food stalls and the like. They're very useful, very educational and provide a sometimes necessary respite, though at times, specially when we know our heroes are in a place of bother, talking about a building's defective staircase is playing on out nerves a bit.
But the one big conclusion to be drawn for this book is that Simon proves he is a multi-faceted writer, able to switch between periods and styles, between the big epic and the individual story while keeping the ingredients that make his books such a good read: the fast-paced action, the suspense, the insane level of documentation.
on 21 March 2014
This is a twisting tale of two brothers taken together by the occupiers of their land. They respond to their plight by following different paths before eventually coming together amidst great danger with a common purpose to right a wrong.
on 25 March 2013
It is easy to see why SJ Turney is top of the pile in ancient historical fiction. The book contains rich detail of the times and the narrative pulls you along easily so you become part of the story.
The two initial parallel stories, merging towards the end of the book are superbly done and there is plenty of action, suspense and pleasure in this book one can only say it is a tip-top read. Truly excellent!
Highly recommended historical fiction.
on 14 April 2015
Istanbul, 1481. The once great city of Constantine that now forms the heart of the Ottoman empire is a strange mix of Christian, Turk and Jew. Despite the benevolent reign of the Sultan Bayezid II, the conquest is still a recent memory, and emotions run high among the inhabitants, with danger never far beneath the surface.
Skiouros and Lykaion, the sons of a Greek country farmer, are conscripted into the ranks of the famous Janissary guards and taken to Istanbul where they will play a pivotal, if unsung, role in the history of the new regime. As Skiouros escapes into the Greek quarter and vanishes among its streets to survive on his wits alone, Lykaion remains with the slave chain to fulfill his destiny and become an Islamic convert and a guard of the Imperial palace. Brothers they remain, though standing to either side of an unimaginable divide.
On a fateful day in late autumn 1490, Skiouros picks the wrong pocket and begins to unravel a plot that reaches to the very highest peaks of Imperial power. He and his brother are about to be left with the most difficult decision faced by a conquered Greek: whether the rule of the Ottoman Sultan is worth saving.
This novel, the first in a series called the Ottoman Cycle, is from a period of history I’m unfamiliar with. I turned to it largely because of a previous work by Turney that I’d read and enjoyed, the Roman based Marius’ Mules and, although this is quite a different beast (no pun intended), I’ve no regrets in doing so.
The basis of this story is the interplay between the two brothers living in a place they’re not intended to be. Skiouros takes up the life of a petty thief, living off his wits, whereas Lykaion take his conscription seriously and becomes an earnest soldier, one that believes in the law so the pair are completely at odds.
However Skiouros’ thievery throws both of them together again. It seems Skiouros has stumbled upon some plot that threatens the melting pot that threatens the empire. A vizier is found murdered and he reports it to his brother who in turn takes it to his command structure. But Lykaion is accused of the murder and he has to run, with only Skiouros to help him.
Marius’ Mules is war based - full of battles, army life and tactics, whereas The Thief’s Tale is more intrigue and mystery related. It’s interesting to see the author willing and able to switch between these two very different styles and times in history. Overall it works well. The pace is steadier and builds with each twist and intrigue. The interplay between the brothers is key, their similar past but very different present is interesting.
All in all a very enjoyable historical fiction from a little known period.
**Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog. May have received free review copy.**
on 24 June 2013
This novel is very engaging, and set in fifteenth century Istanbul, not long after the fall of Byzantium. The city is suffering an identity crisis, as the Ottoman Empire puts it's stamp on the city.
The story concerns the different paths chosen by two brothers who are conscripted into the janissaries, soldiers who are taken from Christian families, but converted to Islam.
The story is fairly straightforward, a tale of conspiracy and murder, but there are one or two interesting twists along the way, and the main character is very likeable.
As with his 'Marius mules' series, the author has a good sense of history and for the period.
Overall, a very readable tale.