Publisher: Orion Publishing Group, Limited
Date Published: July 17th 2014
Genres: Action & Adventure, Historical, Historical Fiction, Mystery & Detective, Thriller
Description: England, 1546. A young Princess Elizabeth is surrounded by uncertainty. She is not currently in line for the throne, but remains a threat to her older sister and brother. In the midst of this fevered atmosphere comes an unprecedented invitation from the Sultan in Constantinople. He seeks to assemble the finest chess players from the whole civilized world and pit them against each other. Roger Ascham, Elizabeth's teacher and mentor in the art of power and politics, is determined to keep her out of harm's way and resolves to take Elizabeth with him when he travels to the glittering Ottoman capital for the tournament. But once there, the two find more danger than they left behind. There's a killer on the loose and a Catholic cardinal has already been found mutilated. Ascham is asked by the Sultan to investigate the crime. But as he and Elizabeth delve deeper, they find dark secrets, horrible crimes and unheard-of depravity. Things that mark the young princess for life and define the queen she will become.
There have been numerous books (both fiction and non-fiction) and movies about Queen Elizabeth I. The Tournament takes a unique perspective by positing a story from Bess’s little known youth. In The Tournament, Bess, her tutor Roger Ascham and his colleague Gilbert Giles travel to Constantinople to the Sweet 16 of chess championships hosted by Sultan Suleiman. While there, Mr. Ascham is charged by the Sultan to investigate the murder of one of the visiting dignitaries.
Let’s just get this out of the way now. Yes, this song was the perpetual soundtrack in my head while I was reading.
While the story was told from Bess’s point of view, I was more interested in Mr. Ashcam’s character. Bess was very young, and very naive to the ways of the world. Mr. Ashcam, as her tutor, was always spouting bon mots like this:
Then however lamentable his English may be, he still speaks your language while you cannot speak his. To me, this gives him a considerable advantage over you. Always pause before you criticize, and never unduly criticize one who has made an effort at something you yourself have not even attempted.
The acquisition of knowledge, the sheer pleasure of finding this out, it the greatest gift in life.
Ashcam is also a master crime scene investigator. He has the skills of Sherlock Holmes, but with an actual convivial personality.
This book was 50% history, 50% mystery, 50% chess instruction, and 50% social commentary. I liked the mystery, history, and chess parts. But did not like the political/religious commentary/proselytizing/forcing it down my throat. Especially towards the end, the Christian vs Islam comparisons of 500 years ago seem like the author is remarking on modern society. Or the commentary on the corruption of the Catholic cardinals in light of Luther’s reforms. I would have preferred less of this in the story.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Yes, it was history, but in a way that blended the historical facts with fiction and mystery smoothly. I would recommend The Tournament for readers interested in mystery or historical fiction.