#BookReview — Eight Pointed Cross by Marthese Fenech
Eight Pointed Cross
By Marthese Fenech
The violent clash between the Ottoman Empire and the Knights of St John on the island fortress of Malta serves as the backdrop to Eight-Pointed Cross. Young siblings Domenicus and Katrina Montesa live under constant threat of raids by the Ottoman Turks, the staunchest enemies of the Christian knights. All the while, hundreds of leagues away in Istanbul, Demir’s dream of becoming an imperial horseman in the Sultan’s cavalry is his only salvation against relentless torment by his cruel brother.
The Turkish invasion of Malta and the island’s bloody defence will forever change the lives of the three protagonists, whose fates are intertwined not only with each other, but with nobles and peasants, knights and corsairs, tyrants and galley slaves, on both sides of the conflict as the novel sweeps across the Mediterranean world of the sixteenth century – from Malta, a barren Christian outpost, to Istanbul, the glittering seat of Islam, from filthy prison cells to lush palace gardens.
Against soaring cliffs and open sea-lanes, the men and women of Eight-Pointed Cross face corruption and oppression, broken vows and betrayal, as two great empires collide. Surviving this battle-soaked world of swords and scimitars will test the limits of every character’s courage, loyalty, and love.
“An army of one thousand sheep led by a lion is far more destructive than an army of one thousand lions led by a sheep. Suleiman the Magnificent led this attack—we faced an army of lions led by a lion.”
Domenicus Montesa would have preferred to have heard the story of how his mother and father met, but his sister Katrina adored her father’s stories of battles and warfare. Katrina’s one lament was that she had been born a girl and could never follow in her father’s footsteps and fight for the glorious Knights of St John.
For some, like Katrina’s father, Augustine, these Christian knights represented honour and nobility. But to others on the island of Malta, these knights were nothing more than Christian pirates who worshipped not God, but gold.
Thousands of miles away, in Istanbul, there was a young child who dreamed of two things. Firstly, Demir wanted to be an exceptional Muslim, and the second was that one day he wanted to become a Sipahi in the Sultan’s cavalry. But first, Demir had to survive the wrath of his father, Al Hajji Hamid al Azm, and the relentless torment of his elder brother. If he survived into adulthood, it would be a miracle, and if the secret that his mother hid ever come to light, his life would be over before it had begun.
With a lyrical narrative that is as rich in historical detail as it is in story and a prose that is poetically pleasing to the ear, Eight Pointed Cross by Marthese Fenech is the tautly gripping account of the clash of two great empires.
Eight Pointed Cross is astoundingly ambitious, but it is in all ways an absolute triumph. Fenech has penned not only a dazzling account of the Knights Hospitaller and what life was like in Malta during this time but also what it was like to grow up in Istanbul. And by writing this book in third person subjective, Fenech has assured that Eight Pointed Cross will definitely stand out in a crowded bookcase.
Fenech lavishly evokes the land in which her novel is set in, which gives this book not only authenticity but makes it unashamedly compelling. This historical detailing of this book has to be commended. Fenech has captured the very essences of this era while staying true to the period and the documented history. Fenech's depiction of the Knights of St. John is utterly sublime. With a keen eye on the history, Fenech also has a novelist intuition about what makes a book entertaining. Kudos, Ms Fenech. Kudos, indeed.
There are several protagonists in this book, and more than one antagonist. For most of this book, the Montesa’s family takes centre stage. When this novel begins, Domenicus and Katrina are children, by the end of this book they are adults. Watching them grow up in the pages of this book was a wonderful thing to behold. In the beginning, they think like children, but as their eyes are opened to the injustice and, in some cases, the cruelty of the world, they begin to see things differently to the way their father sees them. While Augustine seemingly accepts the way things are, Domenicus dares to question it. Whereas Katrina is determined to live the life that she wants to live and not the one that her sex demands of her.
Katrina is, without a doubt, one of my favourite characters in this book. She is so incredibly feisty and determined to do her own thing. However, as confident as she is, Katrina can also be blind to the obvious. Her faith in Franco di Bonfatti, a Knight of the Order, is absolute. Franco becomes a trusted friend who teaches Katrina to use a bow, but Katrina is completely oblivious to Franco’s growing, forbidden, attraction to her. I thought this naivety made Katrina incredibly human in the telling. On the other hand, Katrina’s relationship with Robert Falsone is tender and beautiful. I really enjoyed reading about Katrina. She is a wonderful heroine for readers to get behind.
Another fabulous heroine is Angelica. Angelica suffers a great loss at the beginning of this book, but she somehow rises above it and carries on with her life. Her relationship with Domenicus was depicted with great skill and care. I enjoyed reading about Angelica very much.
Demir is another one of the characters that I simply adored. He is this bright little boy who is smart, loving and, above everything else, kind. He is a complete contrast to his brother and his father. Demi suffers terrible abuse at their hands, and yet his strength of character is never toppled or shaken. He knows right from wrong, and he despairs at injustice, whether that be towards another human or an animal — a fabulous portrayal of a truly unforgettable character.
There are several antagonists in this book, from the corsairs to the Grand Master of the Knights. They are all, of course, products of their time and their beliefs, which made for a fascinating account. There is one character in particular who does not start out as an antagonist. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I am not going to name him, but his depiction was masterly drawn, and he really helped, in the latter part of this book, to drive the story forward.
There are many great historical fiction books, and Eight Pointed Cross by Marthese Fenech is one of them. Fenech is the ideal commentator for this story of empires, families, and war. This is a book where I found myself reaching for the Kleenex one moment and laughing out loud in the next. This is a book which made my heart-rate speed up as the heroes found themselves in increasingly desperate situations. This is a story that is filled with cliff-hanger tension and engrossing battle scenes. This is a story that horrifies, impresses and fascinates in almost equal measures. Eight Pointed Cross is a book of monumental scholarship. It is absolutely irresistible and one I could not put down.
If you are looking for your next great historical fiction read, then look no further than Eight Pointed Cross by Marthese Fenech — this book has it all, and then some.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
Pick up your copy of
Eight Pointed Cross
Marthese Fenech was born the youngest of five to Maltese parents in Toronto. She has traveled extensively across five continents, visiting sixty-five countries. Her research for her novels has taken her on numerous trips to Malta, Turkey, Italy, France, and Spain--a wealth of fascinating places that introduced her to her characters and their cultures in a most authentic way. She also spent time writing the trilogy while living in Singapore. When she was twelve and on a six-month stay in Malta, she enrolled in an all-girls private school run by nuns. She lasted three days before getting kicked out for talking too much. Back in Toronto, she started her own business recording, editing, and selling bootleg heavy metal concerts. She later worked with special needs children and adults, where witnessing small miracles on a daily basis was part of the job. A former kickboxing instructor, Marthese has a Masters in Education and currently teaches high school English and history. She speaks fluent Maltese and French. As part of her research for Eight-Pointed Cross, she took up archery, and ended up accidentally becoming a certified instructor. She has a passion for adventure, photography, running, snowboarding, surfing, scuba-diving, climbing, and yoga.