Eight Pointed Cross (Book Review)
by Marthese Fenech
5 / 5 - Historical Fiction
I'm breaking my Sci-Fi/Fantasy only review rule here because this book is just so good!
While I tend to enjoy historical fiction, I generally stick to the periods I focused on in university (post-1800 and ending after WWII, mainly British). Upon reading Eight Pointed Cross I realize that this is likely a bad idea as I’m missing out on some great novels, specifically this one.
I was recently introduced to the author but I didn’t read her novel out of some sort of obligation - it honestly sounded very interesting. And it was. This novel is wonderful. It has the perfect blend of historical detail, emotional depth, and action/intrigue.
The novel is set in the mid-1500s, on the island of Malta, during military aggression between the Ottoman Empire and the Knights of St John (two factions I had limited knowledge of before this novel, I will admit - I had to keep reminding myself it wasn’t the Crusades). The story features some battle scenes but mainly follows the life of two siblings (Domenicus and Katrina), who are well-off peasants who live on Malta. There are also some chapters devoted to Demir, a young boy living in Istanbul under a powerful and tyrannical father.
As much as the battle scenes are exciting and uncensored for violence, the regular life of the two siblings is the most fascinating part of the novel, as we are shown in detail how “regular” people lived in that time period. We are exposed to how they are constrained by the Order of Knights socially (in terms of gender roles and class) and physically threatened by raiding pirates and the Turkish invaders. Yet, the Turks are not vilified - both cultures are shown to be suffering from militant ideology and corruption.
What I particularly enjoyed was how the female characters were given as much attention and depth as the male ones. How the different women defied or adhered to the extreme patriarchy they are forced to exist in was realistic and relatable. The male characters were well-developed and likeable, even the tormented Franco.
There is just enough exposition of the culture, landscape and historical data to paint a vivid picture but not enough to get boring. Despite the length of the book, I couldn’t put it down.
This novel makes me want to visit Malta.