The story starts when Matthias Tannhauser, son of a Saxon blacksmith witnesses the massacre of his family. He is kidnapped by the Muslim raiders, trained as a Janissary, and then wins his release and becomes a prosperous arms dealer. The starred review in Publishers Weekly sums up the plot very well and gives Tanhauser a rousing endorsement: “(Tannhauser’s) comfortable life is interrupted by the arrival of Contessa Carla La Penautier, a young widow who uses her considerable charms (and title) to recruit Tannhauser to help her find Orlandu, the bastard son she was forced to abandon at birth 12 years earlier. Arriving on Malta, where Carla believes her son is, Tannhauser and Carla get caught in the Turkish attack on the Christian enclave. Meanwhile, Orlandu’s father, Ludovico Ludovici, a monk and feared inquisitor, has returned to Malta with hopes of bringing Malta under papal control. Tannhauser has to find Orlandu, unmask the scheming and unscrupulous Ludovici, survive vicious combat against the Turks, win Carla’s heart and find a way to escape the “island of fanatics and fools.” In Tannhauser, Willocks has created a dazzling hero whose debut will leave readers eager for the next installment.”
This book would make a wonderful book group book because there is lots to discuss. It is long because it is about a quest. The plot is complex and has many characters, though some reviewers found the characters to be shallow. There is much to discuss and think about in the wars of religion which are the background of this story. The book will appeal to readers who revel in deep historical detail and also to people fascinated by the orders of religious knights such as the Knights of Saint John and the Templars. The book features religious politics and conspiracies as well as sex, romance and spiritual salvation.
If you persevere to the end of this long book, which many reviewers described as “gripping,” you will certainly find yourself waiting with impatience for the next book of the planned trilogy.
If you liked The Religion, you might like the Arthurian series of books by Bernard Cornwell (1st one, The Winter King). To me they had the same kind of fascinating historical military detail, and almost the same amount of gore.