A sprawling debut takes us back to 1522 and the siege of Rhodes—when the Knights of St. John came face-to-face with the fleet of Suleiman the Magnificent.
The Mediterranean has been a crossroads of many cultures—and at times quite a bloody one as well. By the 16th century, after a period of some tranquility, the region had begun to heat up again. The new Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman, was young, ambitious, and determined to regain control of the trade routes that the economy of his empire depended on. His main obstacle was a Christian military order, the Knights of St. John, headquartered on the island of Rhodes. Originally founded to care for the sick and provide for the assistance and defense of pilgrims to the Holy Land, the Knights had turned to buccaneering after the Turks drove them from Palestine and now regularly attacked and captured Turkish ships and plundered their cargoes (thereby growing immensely rich). The newly elected Grand Master of the order is the French nobleman Philippe de l’Isle Adam, who faces opposition from his own ranks as well as from the Turks, since he came to power in a close election and has alienated members of the order by his refusal to countenance full-fledged piracy. His abilities as leader are quickly put to the test when the Sultan descends upon Rhodes with an army of 200,000, demanding the surrender of the fortress and the 500 knights defending it. For more than a hundred days the Knights hold out against unbelievable odds before they accept the inevitable and surrender Rhodes to the Turks. Allowed to depart in peace, they settle on Malta and plot their return. The Sultan reigns as conqueror of Rhodes—but for how long?
A good telling of a true story, readable, diverting, but not a standout.