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On the plane to Malta, I began reading Tim Willocks’ The Religion, one of a few Siege-themed novels I’d purchased in view of the journey. I rather liked the prologue, and my first glimpse of Grand Master La Valette and Sir Oliver Starkey, and the preparations for the siege.

If I  was tempted to raise an eyebrow at La Valette’s life-or-death insistence that they must have Tannhauser at all costs… well, he is the hero, after all, and he’s been a Janissary for part of his life – so he must be in the thick of things, and there is some sort of reason for it, right?

Then I met the hero himself, and didn’t like him all that much – but tried to keep an open mind. And then the women walked onstage, and… oh dear. Not one, but two specimens of the Unconventional Heroine sort? I’ll say it again: oh dear.

Then we landed in Malta, and there was no time to read again until I was back home. I had to read a completely different book due for review, first – and only after that did I pick up The Religion again.

And saw more of Mattias Tannhauser.

Our hero, I’ll have you know, is ruggedly handsome, charismatic, enormously clever, erudite in a wide range of subjects, a top-notch soldier, a musician, a fearless leader,  a peerless swordsman and horseman, deeply honourable under a disenchanted appearance, sensitive, tolerant enough to have a Jewish business partner and close friend, brave enough to stand up to the Inquisition.  He also understands and respects women like nobody else, has an intelligence network (apparently covering half of the known world), and can get you an army or a cargo of pepper at a finger’s snap. His services are quite expensive, but always of the best quality – and he’s been known to show a weak spot for a good cause or the mistreated, and he comes complete with a red silk doublet and a tragic past. As a result, all men respect him (whether they hate or love him), horses adore him, and women only have to be in his presence to go weak at the knees.*

Can you tell that I cannot stand the man?

By the time Tannhauser first meets the beautiful Carla – and she, a determined and strong woman up until then, regresses to blushing schoolgirl, I’d had more than enough. And Carla herself, clever, beautiful, alluring, proud, generous, resourceful, open-minded, tormented, an accomplished musician and whatnot, is no help.

Call me a contrarian, call me a cynic, but I cannot stand the over-perfect hero, I cannot stand the unconventional heroine. The more the author goes out of his way to make me like them, the more I dislike both.

As a result, I very much doubt I’ll go ahead with the Religion. A pity, because the writing is good, and I would have liked to see more of Starkey, La Valette and the Siege itself… But, alas, I simply cannot bear the idea of spending some seven hundred pages in the company of Tannhauser and the Lady Carla, these impossibly, insufferably perfect leads.

Can anyone recommend a good novel about the Siege – with a slightly less dazzling, less omnicompetent hero?


* Well, not Amparo – but then she is peculiar in many ways.