The Sword and the Scimitar: Book Review

Sword and Scimitar by Simon Scarrow

As I was recently reading a Daily Mail article about Jessie J’s visit to Malta, featuring many a picture of the beautiful blue sea behind her, I was suddenly struck by the beauty of our Island. Why is it that it sometimes takes a foreign camera lens in order for us to appreciate the beauty which we live in? In many ways, this reminded me of my experience when I read David Ball’s novel The Sword and the Scimitar.

So, admittedly this book has been out quite a while, but since it’s summer I just thought I’d take another look at the novel. If you love historical novels and you feel like being patriotic in your reading choices, then this is the book for you. Although the author is foreign, he admittedly gives a touching and flattering portrayal of our country in the novel from the very first page.

When we first started studying History it was an event which was met with many a school-child’s scoffing and eye-rolling. All those dates and complicated names we had to learn by heart as children just come flooding back the moment you mention the ‘Great Siege’, which is the subject which Ball’s novel centres around. But don’t be deceived into thinking that it will in any way be a snooze-fest the way your Year 6 Social Studies notes were… Sure, the novel may start with a certain ‘Darius the Preserver’ giving an official account of the event. But don’t put the book down just yet: if the name of this historian wasn’t enough to arouse your curiosity, then the depiction of Malta will definitely touch your heart…

Personally, I don’t think it quite got the attention it deserved. As I read the pages of the novel I could already picture it being turned into one of those historical series that are so popular at the moment (*fingers crossed*). David Ball creates an exciting image and vision of what Malta was like at the time, and in painting such a convincing picture, he reminds Maltese readers of our roots, and of what made us who we are nowadays. In addition, he gives his Maltese heroes in the novel one of the most common surnames on the island, ‘Borg’, hence turning a humdrum second name into a syllable synonymous with the laudable champions in his story. The description of cities we know have existed for all these centuries always sends a little flutter to my heart. Aside from giving the novel an authentic feel, all of these aspects helped to reconfigure my appreciation of that particular era. Although he is writing from an outsider’s perspective, Ball presents an image that will arouse your most patriotic sentiments.

For those of you who quake at the notion of a 700 page book, fear not! Even though it is quite a door-stopper of a book, I have to admit that I for one, read it in around three days (and I am an extremely slow reader). So if you haven’t read this novel yet… give it a chance and allow it to take you on an emotional and ‘physical’ journey around the Mediterranean, and into the lives of a wonderful variety of characters you will grow to love, and who will accompany you until you turn the last page…