Reviewed by jj redfearn

1565 was the year when the Ottoman empire was stopped. Empires only survive when they’re expanding and the Turks had had their eyes firmly and successfully set on Europe for years. With large and highly trained forces they were practically unbeatable on the battlefield and only a united Europe could stop them. But Europe was far from united. Elizabeth was on the throne in England trying to hold a religiously divided country together and rebuild its finances. Philip in Spain was already working on ways to undermine her and on building up his forces. Europe was going to fall piecemeal.

If you’re going to invade with sixteenth century technology, how do you do it? Italy and the Pope had to be the targets because without them there would be no rallying point and treaties and further attacks could be managed in relative safety. Protestant and Roman Catholic states would never combine and it’d be every country for itself. They’d fall like dominoes. But getting an army overland through Greece to Italy would be a long, slow, dangerous and expensive undertaking. Keeping supply lines open during and after an assault would be hard and risky. Instead, how about setting up a logistics base and jumping off point? A small, easily defended island on a good maritime trade route close to Italy and with stepping stone targets that could be taken and consolidated. The answer: Malta. Best of all, Malta was the territory of the sole remaining order of Crusader Knights, the Hospitallers, there weren’t many of them, they had no chance of surviving an attack. Europe would fall.

Thats the backdrop to Sword and Scimitar in which an aging Sir Thomas Barrett is recalled to service in what may become the Knights of St John’s last stand at the siege of Malta.

Interestingly Scarrow takes this as an opportunity to launch his own attack on organized religion, having Barrett, a Hospitaller Knight dedicated to the defense of Christianity, question and reject the existence of any divine that has an interest in humanity in general or in any individual in particular.

A fast read with plenty of incident, espionage and bloody fighting on galleys and in fortresses. Mildly enjoyable pulp fiction.

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John Redfearn

In a forty year career in IT John programmed Elliot 803s, Data General Novas, ICL1903s, an IBM 360-158, a VAX, several Perkin Elmer boxes, Intel 8080s, Univac and Burroughs machines before becoming a Systems Analyst and then an IT Architect and Strategy manager. He’s programmed in assembler, Fortran, Jean, Algol, Basic, Cobol, Prolog, Lisp and, though he’d never admit it, Java.

He’s worked for the Royal Greenwich Observatory, Marconi, Lloyds Register, Lynwood Scientific, the Northern Hemisphere Observatory and in the upstream, downstream and trading sectors of an oil major.

His main interests are in IT, Business management and its lack of understanding of IT risk, Ancient History, Napoleonic history and the Naval history of the time. He’s a Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society, is a CEng and a CITP and is a member of the Grand National Archery Society.

He has a dry sense of humour. He believes that no-one with any sense believes what spreadsheets tell them. He agrees with Dilbert on what an IT manager could do on a project with half the budgeted time and half the budgeted money. He’s a firm believer in responsibilities rather than rights. And he doesn’t tolerate fools. Period.

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