Sweeping historical adventure culminates in the 16th-century Battle of Malta.
It’s 1552. Eleven-year-old tomboy Maria and younger brother Nico are searching Malta’s caves for hidden treasure when a Moslem slave ship arrives and Nico is kidnapped. After the Christian knights who control the island, including the imperious Grand Master, scoff at Maria’s audacious demand that they give chase, she grows up with a deep resentment for these patriarchal rulers. With friend Elena, she studies Judaism and, even more unforgivably, reading. Her tutor is benevolent Father Salvago, who develops an uncontrollable passion for his pupil and, in a fit of lust, rapes her. Maria finds neither comfort nor justice: even her own father blames the assault on his daughter. Nico, meanwhile, navigates a dangerous voyage to adulthood. His youthful beauty helps him escape death and lands him in the household of wealthy El Hadji Farouk, who intends to groom him as a paramour. Treachery and jealousy pervade the Farouk estate, but Nico is mentored and protected there by shipbuilder Leonardus. After many dangerous episodes, Nico escapes, eventually converting to Islam and becoming the protégé of corsair leader Dragut Raïs. Nico changes his name to Asha, and rises steadily to a command position. A third protagonist, Christien, raised as a nobleman in France and groomed to be a knight, also becomes a warrior, though he eschews chivalry in order to follow a secret study of medicine. When mother Simone breaks her leg, Christien takes the necessary step of amputating. He saves her life but earns exile and becomes a Christian knight, his medical skill facilitating a quick rise in the knighthood. The groundwork having been laid, Ball provides a climactic, masterful, action-packed, and brutal panorama of the great battle.
Though copious with historical information—surprisingly relevant in light of current history—Ball (China Run, 2002, etc.) anchors it all in character. A winning combination.