I read a lot of historical fiction and because of my interest in ancient Greece and Rome most of my reading is from those genres. So it was with some trepidation that I ventured out of my interest zone and picked up SJA Turney’s The Thief’s Tale, a tale that takes place in 15th century Istanbul. This trepidation was tempered by the fact that I have read other books by Mr. Turney; most notably the Marius Mules series, and was confident that he could write an excellent story no matter the historical time frame involved.
The story is a fictional account of a power struggle between two brothers vying for control of The Ottoman Empire and how another pair of brothers, one of them a Muslim Janissary, the other a Christian(at least nominally) street thief who find themselves irrevocably involved in a plot to assassinate the current ruling brother. The characters, both main and ancillary, are meticulously crafted as the author has done his research on not only the time period but also of Constantinople/Istanbul. The story flows seamlessly to its exciting climax which ironically involves a true historical fact; a lightning strike that hit Istanbul in 1491.
One of the major story lines reflects one of our foremost contemporary problems, the religious or ethnic intolerance between Muslim, Christian and Jew. Istanbul in 1491 could easily be Teheran or Jerusalem in 2013. The thief often finds himself dwelling on the paradox of three religions that worship the same God and yet are continually at each other’s throats competing for supremacy. The author, while offering no insight or solution to this worldwide threatening issue does inject the story with enough ironic situations that made me once again ask the question, why?
As with any good story that has sequels in mind, The Thief’s Tale leaves the reader turning the last page and hoping that the sequel has already been written. The Thief’s Tale is well worth leaving your genre comfort zone.
I like to tell people that I discovered S.J.A. Turney, author of the Marius’ Mules series. After all, no one recommended him to me, although that surely would have happened eventually, no one handed me one of his books and insisted I had to read it. No, the plain truth is I did discover him while patrolling Amazon for new reading material a couple of years ago and have since read the first four books of the series. This review, while mostly about the fourth installment from his series on the Gaul campaigns of Gaius Julius Caesar, is also about the first three. My love affair with the historical fiction genre began when I read Mary Renault’s The KIng Must DIe for a high school literature class back in 1968 and has only increased throughout the years. I am especially drawn to stories of ancient Rome and the conquests by her legions. In the Marius Mules series, Mr. Turney reconstructs the various campaigns of Caesar in Gaul while he attempts to cement his position of power in Rome. This time period is one that is visited frequently, for example, Colleen McCullough’s series detailing the fall of the Roman Republic but there is enough variation in character development and plot lines in Marius’ Mules to allow for another in depth foray into the subject matter.
The main protagonist, Marcus Falerias Fronto, Caesar’s legate of the vaunted 10th Legion and one of his closest tactical advisors, has followed Caesar from the beginning but now nagging doubts begin to creep into the relationship. This campaigning season finds Caesar first crossing The Rhone and then The English Channel in pursuit of glory in the form of tribal rebellions. Some officers in Caesar’s high command openly question the general’s motives and set the stage for the political intrigue that follows Caesar throughout the rest of his life. The machinations of Caesar are not limited to Gaul as opposition in Rome forces Caesar’s hand to try and bring things under control including the use of that notorious thug, Clodius. The goings on in Rome are indeed a major factor throughout Caesar’s time in Gaul as he competes with Crassus and Pompey for the right to be First Man in Rome and Mr. Turney adds some interesting touches to the political battlefield.
As to be expected in any story involving Roman Legions and barbarian tribes, the battles scenes are accurately described in gore filled detail. The Roman gladius and pilum are as deftly handled by the author’s pen as they are by the battle hardened legionary’s wielding them. Plots and sub-plots complete with twists and turns is the fuel that feeds this entertaining, thought provoking entry into the Marius’ Mules series. I am looking forward to Marius’ Mules V and beyond.