The Religion by Tim Willocks

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The Religion by Tim Willocks

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Historical adventure with an unstoppable hero and the 16th century siege of Malta as a backdrop. Showing the stamp of historic authenticity throughout, it's dirty, scary, thrilling and very bloody. Not for the squeamish, but great for the rest of us.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 816 Date: April 2013
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099581291

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To the Maltese and Sicilians, Mattias Tannhauser is a successfully blooded infantry captain. To Ottoman Turks he's Ibrahim the Red, having been kidnapped from Hungary and raised as a Muslim. Dual nationality comes in handy once he's met the beautiful Contessa Carla de la Penantier and is commissioned to find and return her 12 year old bastard son. As always with these missions there's a catch. The boy (whom Carla hasn't seen since the day of his birth) is rumoured to be on Malta, an island currently being threatened by 30,000 Turks and defended by a tenth of that number, even if you count the Knights Hospitaller. The Turks call themselves the Hounds of Hell, the Knights are known as the Religion, but it's immaterial to Mattias. He just needs to find the lad and get out alive.

Do you, like me, often wish a novel had been longer? English author and doctor of medicine Tim Willocks must have had us in mind when he wrote this, his fourth book. He has provided a house brick of an opus containing 816 closely written pages but, trust me, volume is accompanied by talent. I was riveted and won over by man-mountain Mattias from the get-go as Dr Willocks shows a skill for transporting a readership through time, space and quite a bit of bodily fluid.

Indeed, this isn't a book for even the mildly squeamish. There's blood, entrails, waste products from all orifices, beheadings, hangings and blunt brutality. However, rather than being sensationalised, the widespread internal spillage provides a feeling of authenticity. In fact the research undertaken for this must have been painstaking. From the noise of the Knights mumbling the Lord's Prayer over and over to the battle-ready keening of the Turks, the neck pain from hours of helmet-wearing, the use of mallets as pre-op anaesthesia and all other minutiae of life and the siege, we're swept back to the feelings smells and sheer terror of a fight against the odds on a crowded island with few resources remaining.

It may be no surprise who Carla's son is and some of the romantic scenes clunk around the edges slightly but all this is forgiven because we are made to care as we hold on and hurtle along with the plot. Tannhauser is a complex character because Tim sidesteps the urge to make him a 2-D death machine. Mattias may dispense death but he has a soul and a conscience. Having been on both sides, he is pro-humanity rather than anti-Turk with only opium to dull his senses against the butchery and the flashbacks.

There are also baddies, the most evil probably being Ludovico Ludivici, the fictionalised Inquisitor. He seems a caricature till we realise that he's the embodiment of many who held sway with real power and icy selfishness where their altruism should have dwelt.

Historic characters mix with the fictional and are just as colourful. My suggestion is, once you've read the story (preventing spoilers), search-engine Valette as his real life story could be a book in itself.

The good news is there's more to come. Those of us who feel there's more mileage in Tannhauser even after such a tome have been proven correct. The Religion is the first of a trilogy and those of us who have just read it have an advantage over those who finished it a while ago: we have less waiting time as the sequel The Twelve Children of Paris has just been released. This time it's only a mere 768 pages but if it's half as good, we won’t mind at all.

If you enjoy this and would like to read another story that includes an encounter with the Maltese Knights, try A Name in Blood by Matt Rees.

Buy The Religion by Tim Willocks at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Religion by Tim Willocks at

Buy The Religion by Tim Willocks at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Religion by Tim Willocks at


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