"A Novel of the Knights of Malta and the Last Battle of the Crusades"
I previously read David Ball's other historical novel, "Empires of Sand" and really liked it, so I had high expectations for this book - which it fully lived up to.
It's a big, long book with a great (in my opinion) mix of sensationalism and good research. Yes, I like to find out my historical facts while being entertained by copious violence, enslavement, piracy, rape, revenge, betrayal, battles, and of course love-that-conquers-all.
"Ironfire" focuses on two siblings with very different destinies. Born on the impoverished, rocky and remote isle of Malta, ruled by the knights of the Order of St. John and the Church, the imaginative and intelligent Maria is traumatized and heartbroken when her little brother Nico is kidnapped and carried off by corsairs. Although they are separated, each of them never forgets the other, as they go through different traumas in their lives. Maria dreams of escape from Malta and a fine life in France, wishing to learn to read, and making friends with a group of people who are secretly Jewish, dealing with the harshness of her father - and of her society.
Nico endures slavery and abuse, but his prodigous memory and natural good looks allow him to survive in Muslim Algiers - but is he truly the boy he was anymore?
The sixteenth century comes vividly (if not entirely believably) to life in this colorful, romantic, sprawling story.