three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
30-Sept-Oct-2007
By: 
Tim Willocks
user_rating: 
0

A-The ReligionMattias Tannhauser, a young Saxon abducted by soldiers of the Ottoman Empire, spends years as a Janissary in the Turkish army and then moves to Sicily, where he runs a tavern, brokers arms deals, sells opium, and acts as a spy. When the beautiful and chaste French Countess Carla La Penautier agrees to marry him—thus helping him achieve his dream of becoming a nobleman—she requires him to first accompany her to Malta to rescue her illegitimate son. But Malta, occupied by the Knights of St. John the Baptist, is under siege by the Turkish army, and Tannhauser’s mission lands him in the middle of a savage holy war.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 618 pages. $26. ISBN: 0374248656

Chicago Sun-Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Big, sprawling, bursting with action, romance, high emotions, sacrifice and enough exotica to satisfy a travel agent. … The reader is immersed so thoroughly that upon closing the book after an evening’s read the first impulse might be to bathe and scrub away the filth and gore." Randy Michael Signor

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"Despite its pitched love story and occasional campy detail, this is a rich, dark account of the implacability of religious war. … Landscapes are richly drawn, and the people fascinate." Julie Drew

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"The Religion is an ambitious, monumental novel that delivers on every level. … At its simplest it is a compelling read, old-fashioned historical fiction full of adventure, battles and sex." Curt Schleier

Guardian (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It aims for the surface simplicity of commercial cinema and, like many modern Hollywood films, contrives to be both smart and dumb, with its big vocabulary and real literary craft alongside galloping cliché and lack of psychological depth." Chris Petit

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Religion has few pretensions to high literature, but it delivers a timely sermon in the midst of its surround-sound entertainment." Susann Cokal

Seattle Times 3 of 5 Stars
"[The novel’s] truths, coupled with a prodigious amount of research, make this worth a browse. Be forewarned: All the battles are exactly the same, with a great amount of time spent examining the resultant filth and gore." Valerie Ryan

South FL Sun-Sentinel 2.5 of 5 Stars
"An entire review might be devoted to the sport of mocking Willocks’ crimes against decent English prose, but, great fun though that might be, it would come at the expense of what the author does well. … Years of prodigious research surely went into The Religion, for it bristles with authenticity and texture that brings the siege into sharp visual relief." Chauncey Mabe

Entertainment Weekly 2 of 5 Stars
"It’s a rollicking story, but largely undone by romance cliché and showy, faux-historical writing, an argot so belabored as to bespeak BS." Thomas Hayden

Critical Summary

The first in a projected trilogy, The Religion stirred excitement in some critics and distaste in others. Tim Willocks writes with visual detail (he’s a screenwriter), but he also appeals to the other senses, creating what the Chicago Sun-Times described as "a thick stew of smells, colors, and sounds." Some reviewers, however, criticized florid writing, shallow characters, and a clichéd plot. Others found Willocks’s prose cinematic, his characters complicated, and the plot thrilling. Fans of swashbuckling adventures will enjoy this work and undoubtedly overlook the book’s flaws. But the novel is not for the faint at heart: all reviewers mentioned the blood and gore in every battle scene.