Publication Date: January 6, 2012
Queen Sacrifice by Tony Riches is a story of a Welsh Civil War taking place in the tenth century. The latter part of the novel follows every move of the “Game of the Century” between Donald Byrne and 13-year-old Bobby Fischer in New York City on October 17th, 1956.
I know nothing about chess. I’ve heard of Bobby Fischer only due to his firmly secured place in popular culture which led to his name being an answer to a Trivial Pursuit question. That said if no one had told me that this novel starting with Chapter 8, followed the moves of a famous chess match it would not have been evident. Riches prefaces his novel well with his motivation and base in history so that the reader expects a point where the narrative turns to “this happened…and then this happened…. And then this happened.” In actual fact, the narrative flows evenly throughout the novel. Could it be that there’s more a story to chess than this humble reader could have ever imagined?
Let’s face it, the medieval genre is hot right now. Game of Thrones, Camelot, Merlin…. Queen Sacrifice fits into that market niche. There is a VAST cast of characters that Riches lists as chess pieces on a board (he notes that when he wrote the novel to find that he had written only two women, he gave the Queen’s female companions to even the score a bit). The characters are all unique and Riches makes clear who we’re following so that despite the many voices, the narrative is very clear and the story is easy to follow and keep straight.
Queen Sacrifice has the feeling of an Arthurian legend. The characters engage in infidelity and intrigue. Some are self-absorbed and self-serving while others serve King and country. Riches action is well described and more like a dance than a tennis match. I am not a Welsh historian so don’t know if the history is based, in fact, a quick Google search revealed nothing, but the story has that delicious feeling that it might have been. Riches’s narrative is plausible and feels like a well researched based on a true story. Queen Sacrifice smacks of hard work and careful craftsmanship for the enjoyment of the reader.
I have a feeling if you’re a chess fan and have knowledge of the game, this may just be the book for you. The chess player will nod knowingly with each step. I did not get the chess references or follow the moves as spectators did back in 1956, but I did enjoy the novel as someone who likes historically based narratives. I know a few people for whom this is a preferred genre and will be recommending the novel to them. Queen Sacrifice stands in quality and complexity with any novel of the genre. Look out George R.R. Martin, Tony Riches is coming for you!