Bane of Kings reviews Simon Scarrow’s brilliant historical fiction novel Sword and Scimitar, published by Headline Books in the UK and was recently released in hardback.
“A mesmerizing tale that keeps the reader hooked right the way through. Simon Scarrow fans will love this thrilling standalone novel, as will newcomers to the author.” ~The Founding Fields
I was first introduced to Simon Scarrow, like most readers of him were, through his Macro and Cato Roman novels. Although I’ve only managed to read the first two books, Under the Eagle and The Eagle’s Conquest so far, I’m really liking what I’m seeing and I don’t know why I haven’t got around to picking up the third book in the series yet. For those of you who don’t want to thrust themselves into a long-running series (although it looks like it’s one of those series that you can probably jump in anywhere and understand what’s going on), but still want to check out why I believe that Simon Scarrow is almost as good as Bernard Cornwell, Sword and Scimitar, recently released in hardback – is a great place to start.
1565, Malta: a vital outpost between the divided nations of Europe and the relentlessly expanding Ottoman Empire. Faced with ferocious attack by a vast Turkish fleet, the knights of the Order of St John fear annihilation. Amongst those called to assist is disgraced veteran Sir Thomas Barrett. Loyalty and instinct compel him to put the Order above all other concerns, yet his allegiance is divided. At Queen Elizabeth’s command, he must search for a hidden scroll, guarded by the knights, that threatens her reign.
As Sir Thomas confronts the past that cost him his honour and a secret that has long lain buried, a vast enemy army arrives to lay siege to the island…
It’s a siege novel, and I always do love to read about well-written sieges, whether they be set in science fiction (Helsreach by Aaron Dembski-Bowden), fantasy (Legend by David Gemmell) or historical fiction (this novel) genres, they’re always a treat to read and if there is one out there on the shelves then I will enjoy it a lot. Maybe because I love rooting for the underdog, the one fighting against all odds to emerge victorious against an army of vicious, bloodthirsty invaders.
And I’m pleased to say that Sword and Scimitar did not disappoint. It’s action packed, unputdownable and there are no one-dimensional characters. Scarrow’s cast contains several that toe the line between good and evil, and even one particular character, Oliver Stokley (who I absolutely detested) may seem like an arrogant prick throughout the whole novel, will be seen in an (almost) different light by the end. I could say that about the Christian side, but I can’t really say the same about the Ottomans, the invaders. Scarrow has portrayed them as bloodthirsty savages, and whilst Christian characters who have arguably committed similar deeds such as raping, are given their moment of heroism at the end of the novel. That didn’t really detract my overall experience from reading the novel though, I loved every second of it.
Scarrow has really improved on his writing since I first read Under the Eagle, and considering that novel was superb, that’s a very good thing indeed. I think Sword and Scimitar might be one of the best historical fiction novels that I’ve read in 2012, tying with Anne Lyle’s The Merchant of Dreams, which is historical fiction with an element of fantasy. (read: Skraylings!) Sword and Scimitar brings to life The Order of St. John and their struggles with the Ottoman Empire, which is something that I’ve not read about before and it was interesting to uncover information about it.
The action is well written, bloodthirsty and Scarrow barrels along at a page turning pace when we reach the siege. Although it may seem like it takes a while in the build up, Scarrow has managed the split between the build-up and the siege itself perfectly, splitting them pretty much in two, so that the first half of the novel is about the build-up whilst the second follows the struggles of the Knights of St. John in the defence of Malta.
This is well worth seeking out in hardback. Scarrow’s latest offering is a superb read that will leave readers only wanting more. I couldn’t put it down. It’s also nice to see Scarrow writing in a non-Roman setting and Sword and Scimitar proves that he can handle multiple historical periods when writing. I’m firmly looking forward to the next book that Scarrow will deliver us with and in the meantime I’m going to be catching up on his Roman series.