5 out of 5 Stars
For original review, see the Prism Book Alliance® blog online.
In Tournament of Shadows S.A Meade has taken a real life historic event, the imprisonment and execution of two British Army Officers in 1842 by the Emir of Bukhura (now known as Uzbekistan), and weaved their tragic fate into a haunting tale of spies, deception and suspense.
Captain Gabriel O’Riordan is sent to Bukhura by his superiors in a clandestine last ditch attempt to rescue the doomed officers. Disguised as a holy man Gabriel encounters the enigmatic Russian officer Valentin Yakolev when he stops for food and to rest his lame horse. Valentin is also on his way to Bukhura, to present letters to the Emir from his Russian masters. From the moment the two men meet an attraction sparks between them. Valentin can see that Gabriel is not what he appears to be but it’s not until they reach Bukhura and Gabriel learns of hopelessness of his task that he turns to Valentin for help, exposing who he is in the process.
Gabriel offers himself to Valentin if the Russian will plead the officer’s case. Valentin agrees and collects his fee from Gabriel, but his plea to the Emir falls on deaf ears and the officers are publicly executed in front of the infamous Ark Fortress. Gabriel and Valentin meet up one more time before Gabriel makes plans to resign his commission and leave Bukhara to start the long journey home, but before he leaves Valentin is cast into the dreaded Bug Pit within the walls of the Ark.
Can Gabriel get Valentin out of the Pit and the Emir’s clutches?
One thing Gabriel is sure of, he won’t walk away and leave Valentin to the mercy of the Emir, not while he still breathes. With the execution of the officers fresh in his mind Gabriel works out a plan to free Valentin, but just as it seems escape is within their grasp Gabriel learns Valentin is also not what he seems.
It’s no secret I adore historical MM fiction, but when that fiction is weaved so beautifully and seamlessly into real life events the history comes alive. Bukhura is nestled deep inside Asia, landlocked on all sides; it is a desert land, a mystical land, full of dust and crushing heat.
Gabriel is a dedicated but jaded young man, ill used by the country he loves he knows he’s on a lost cause, all he longs for is his home back in Ireland, to feel the rain and silence. From the moment they meet Valentin stirs something in Gabriel that he hasn’t felt in a long time, and it’s not just desire, it’s a longing for more, for a connection with a like-minded soul, and before he really understands what it means Gabriel is in love with Valentin. Gabriel is also hiding from his memories of Kabul, from the deaths of his friends and the needless slaughter. When he finds out Valentin was there I felt his shock, betrayal and his anger.
Valentin is less transparent. He is self-assured, confident, strong and determined, a man used to getting what he wants, at least he is before his imprisonment in the Pit, afterwards he is lost and scared, unsure and frightened to be alone, he needs Gabriel, needs his strength to get home, and to live again. S.A. Meade’s writing is lovely; it’s expressive and descriptive, so much so that I felt I was there with Valentin and Gabriel. I saw what they saw, felt what they felt, the joy, the terror, the despair and the anguish.
Tournament of Shadows is everything I wanted and more, the suspense never lets up. From the tension of Bukhura, to the snows of Moscow, it lived up to its promise. I can’t recommend it enough. For lovers of historical fiction it’s not to be missed.
Oh and one final thing, ignore the warning, the beheading scene is no more detailed than you’d read on Wikipedia and I really don’t want the warning to anyone off.