Set during the 16th century on both the isle of Malta, home of the ancient order of the Knights of St. John, and in the Ottoman Empire of Suleiman the Magnificent, this novel is a page turner from beginning to end. As the story opens, two Maltese children, Maria and her brother Nico, are playing on the isle when corsairs kidnap Nico and sell him into slavery in the Ottoman Empire. From that point on, both characters’ lives are followed simultaneously across the years as the storyline builds to its grand finale, the massive siege of Malta by some forty thousand of the Sultan’s finest warriors. Ironically, one of those warriors will be Nico, now known as Asha, who eventually becomes an officer in the Sultan’s fleet.
The characters in this novel are all extremely well drawn, and it’s filled to overflowing with well-researched history. I found it very interesting that the burning of supposed heretics at the stake was a common practice in the Western world during this time period, while in the Ottoman Empire, Christians and Jews were allowed to retain their religious laws and practices. And on Malta, those of the Jewish faith who refused to convert to Catholicism “were put to the torch, or forced to don slavery’s chains.” Although there’s no way I can do justice to this fine novel in a short review, I can certainly recommend it highly to all history lovers.