Monday, December 17, 2007

Tim Willocks

It seemed appropriate to be reading Tim Willocks book "The Religion" in armour. This rattling good story is set in a very interesting period of Maltese history. It covers the Great Seige pretty thouroughly, and the back story is really well researched and solid.
I think the name "The Religion" might put people off...they may think it is about St. Thomas or some such person, rather than the lead character, who is about as different from the Gentle Thomas Aquinas as it is possible to get. This guy has a personal grudge against the Inquisition, and somehow stays alive to continue fighting it! He provides a very nice, three dimentional character with his own story, the result is excellent continuity through a very difficult and confusing battle.
I am glad to see a slightly different take on this famous battle than the usual military thinking....this was actually a grudge match against the moderate Islamic Ottoman Empire against some fanatical elements of the RC church. The Grand Harbour was held in an iron grip by the Knights of St. John, the last of the great "church militant" orders created by and for the crusades working more or less closely with the Spanish Inquisition, and though there were many better targets for Ottoman expansion, this one was a particularly tasty nut to crack.
As hard as Willocks tries to make his characters fully three dimentional, they keep getting upstaged by the fight that is going on all around them. The old emotional baggage between La Valette and the Inquisition which once excommunicated and jailed him might have provided fodder, but come to think of it, would have required a whole 'nother book! As well, the dealings with Dragut the old Barbary pirate, who had captured Vallette when he was young, only to have Vallette return the favor several years later after the a prisoner exchange could have been developed further, as a spice to Dragut's eventual death by sheer accident (if you can call being killed in an artillery barrage an accident!) during Dragut's assault on Fort St. Elmo.
And the fight! Oh my! What a battle! Willocks spares us no details of a horrid bloody desperate fight, his descriptions make us feel like we are actually THERE. He intentionally keeps the fog of war floating across the battle field, and that only adds to the realism. It is very rare in military battles to find units which literally did "fight to the death", but this is one case where it did happen, by men who were well trained, well fed, and sustained in their efforts by "The Religion".

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Weary Hag said...

Knowing squat about this topic (except, I will admit that one of the coolest things I've ever been to was a medieval festival and sale) I can totally appreciate how passionate you are about it. I think it would be most unfortunate to try to get through this life without something to be passionate about. Good for you!

justagirl said...

It sounds like a really fascinating book, and one which I would probably enjoy, except for the gory details of the battle...

Great pictures of you!

STAG said...

Well, if you liked "Enemy at the Gates", or "Saving Private Ryan", you would love Tim W.'s book. The gore and blood are actually understated....this really WAS a nasty fight! But by and large, it was by gentlemen against gentlemen, which resulted in some very odd events! Almost certainly La Valette "lost it" when a dozen of his knights were decapitated and floated back to him on crosses, and he retaliated by using Turkish Prisoner's heads as cannonballs (though modern thinking is that this story may be embellished in whole or in part)
But La Valette bitterly regretted that decision, and according to one person I chatted with, sent an apology to the Sultan.

Thanks for dropping in Jenn.