Author Matthew Reilly is well known for his swashbuckling breakneck stories, and thankfully The Tournament lives up to his reputation.  High-class literature?  No.  A damn enjoyable read?  Most certainly.

Set in 1546, The Tournament is told from the perspective of ‘Bessie’ or Queen Elizabeth the 1st when she was a 13 year old girl, her father (Henry the 8th) ruled England, and she was third in line for the throne.  When Suleiman the Magnificent, ruler of the Ottoman Empire and Constantinople (now Istanbul), invites a player from each country in Europe to play in a magnificent chess tournament, Bessie goes along for the ride alongside her famed tutor, Roger Ascham and Mr Giles, the English representative for the chess tournament.

But of course, it’s not just about the chess (it never is).  Soon, Ascham is asked to find out the identity of a killer on the loose, the chess tournament is not how it appears, and debauchery and the sins of flesh of every type of person is soon on show.

While this has been considered one of Reilly’s slower paced novels, as far as absorbing reads go, it’s along with the best of them.  Reilly is well-known for his ‘blockbuster novels’ so to speak; they’re fast, they’re fun and they have a great storyline, and The Tournament fills all of these criteria.

What I personally enjoy about Reilly’s later novels is that he incorporates facts and history into his story lines, so even though the writing may not be of a super high calibre, with all the random history facts thrown in, I still felt like I was learning (doesn’t that sound a bit lame?  I’m sure you know what I mean though).  Which not only means I can get away with reading less history books, yet still sound smart at the dinner table when whipping out random facts about Queen Elizabeth the 1st.  Win-win.

In The Tournament, Reilly has used well-known historical figures, such as Queen Elizabeth the 1st, Roger Ascham and Ivan the Terrible, to not only flesh out his story line, but to also add an extra dimension of interest and intrigue for the readers.  However, in saying that, at times I did feel like The Tournament was a touch too Dan Brown-y, what with the Turkish setting, the scholar leading the way, and, at times, sorry to say this, borderline clumsy writing.

And while overall the storyline was absorbing, and I genuinely looked forward to any time I had when I could read this, it was a touch clunky and unbelievable at times.  One example is when Ascham is lured into a trap – yet it seems quite obvious what was going to occur, and it seems very odd that a character known for his logic and reason wouldn’t have seen it.  But perhaps I’m just being pedantic.

Overall, I would recommend The Tournament.  In short, it’s a fun read.  I really like Matthew Reilly’s books, and from all the interviews I’ve read, Matthew Reilly himself too.  Not only is it awesome to think that we have a super successful Australian author all of our own (take that, Dan Brown), but he also creates terrific story lines that get you reading page after page…even if you do have work early the next morning.

Have you read The Tournament or anything by Matthew Reilly?  What do you think of fiction that incorporates real-life characters and facts?  Are you a fan of big action novels?  Let me know!

the tournament by matthew reilly

The Tournament – (image taken from