The Tournament has been dubbed as a medieval mystery with “a Matthew Reilly engine.” That’s a nice marketing term, and it’s sure to make the novel appeal to Reilly’s steadfast readership, but I think it does the novel – and Reilly – a disservice. The Tournament is an entirely different beast, and not just because of the ancient setting or the fact it’s steeped in history (which is appropriately blemished for entertainment’s sake).
Calling it Reilly’s first ‘adult’ novel undermines his catalogue of action-packed, adrenaline-fueled thrillers (all of which I enjoyed greatly) – but whereas those were epic blockbusters, The Tournament is a tightly-focused exploration of its cast of characters through the eyes of a thirteen year old Queen Elizabeth I. The narrative is anchored by a murder-mystery during the first ever Chess tournament between world superpowers, but it’s fairly formulaic stuff. It’s engrossing, don’t get me wrong, punctuated with plenty of surprises and a few hallmark action sequences – but it’s the deeper tale involving the eventual-Queen’s exploration of mankind and its capacity for good and evil as she and her teacher, Mr. Ascham, seek to solve the case that is truly enthralling.
Ultimately, not being a fan of period pieces or ‘alternate history’ narratives hindered my enjoyment. If you’re a fan of either of those, you might be safe adding another half-star to my rating. Beyond that wholly subjective critique, it was fantastic seeing Reilly dial down the action and offer us something we’ve not seen from him before. Whatever type of author you defined Reilly as before The Tournament, you need to read this and reassess.