Tuesday, March 31, 2009

David Ball: The Sword and the Scimitar

One of those sweeping historical novels that brings to life the realities of battles for ships (laden with goods) and power that raged between Christians and Muslims in the Mediterranean of the 16th century. This is the novel to take with you when you go on holiday to Malta, as Malta lies at the heart of the story, even though much of the story also takes place in Algiers, Istanbul, and Paris. The story tracks the life of a Maltese brother and sister, separated at a young age when the boy is captured as a slave by a passing galley. The lives of ordinary Maltese are contrasted with those of the Knights of St John, the Maltese nobility, slaves serving in the galleys, and the servants of Suleiman the Magnificent in the Topkapi palace. At over 700 pages, although many scenes are intensely gripping, the book is too long. I skimmed several sections that could have easily been cut without any loss to the heart of the novel. Wonderful to read this and then wander through the streets of Birgu where much of the action takes place and see the historic buildings mentioned in the book.

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