The heroic stand of the Knights of St. John against the much larger army of Islamic invaders in 16th-century Malta gets epic treatment in the first, fat volume of a projected trilogy.
British psychiatrist, screenwriter and novelist Willocks (Bloodstained Kings, 1998, etc.) portrays Renaissance warfare with gusto, stirring the depravity of the Inquisition into the siege of Malta, where Suleiman the Magnificent has sent his vast armies to obliterate the Knights Hospitaller of St. John, a monastic order with a power base nearly as rich as the pope’s. The story hangs on the broad shoulders of Mattias Tannhauser, son of a German blacksmith, who was abducted and adopted by raiding Moslems, giving him vast insight into both Christian and Moslem viewpoints in the unsettled world of the Mediterranean. Tannhauser is lured to the island fortress by the ravishing Franco-Maltese countess Carla La Penautier, who hopes the currently retired warrior will leave the pleasures of his present life as a Sicilian merchant to locate somewhere in Malta the illegitimate son who was snatched from her when she was 15. Tannhauser, bewitched by Carla, takes on the job, unaware that the missing lad’s father is the brilliant Dominican inquisitor Ludovico Ludovici, himself headed for Malta, for his own evil reasons. Colluding with the supremely cynical Cardinal Michele Ghisleri, Ludovico plans to bring the too-independent Knights permanently to heel, subjecting them to the will of his patron, who will one day be known as Pius V. The two protagonists are plunged into the lopsided battle between the vastly outnumbered Maltese and the supremely confident armies of the Sultan, all the while carrying on their own private battle to the death. Stone walls crumble, war machines rumble, bodies fill the ditches, and once in a while there’s some terrific sex.
A long, bloody, vastly entertaining story.