There’s just something so easy about reading a book with characters you are very familiar with and you know exactly what you are getting into. I’ve been reading Berry’s Cotton Malone series for more than 7 years now and these spy thrillers/action adventure novels have become my comfort reads. So, when I got approved for this advance copy (which I wasn’t exactly expecting), I was so so happy I can’t describe the feeling. And the book definitely lived up to all my expectations.
Cotton and even Stephanie are well established characters and there’s hardly anything that they can do now that will surprise me. Cotton is resourceful and brave and despite being a retired spy and current rare bookseller, nothing ever keeps him away from a mission. I love how much he trusts his instincts and never takes anyone at their word unless he can prove it himself. The other thing I really liked in this book was that Luke is given an equally important part to play. His storyline happens parallel to that of Cotton and it gave me a good chance to get to know him better. He maybe young and slightly brash, always struggling to live up to the legend that is Cotton Malone, but he also respects the older man and is always remembering his mentor’s words while trying to get out of tricky situations. He also seems to get into such situations too easily but it was amusing to watch him figure his way out. I have a feeling that we might be seeing more of Luke in the upcoming books.
Though I really like the characters of the series, that’s not why I read a Steve Berry book – it’s for the extensive history lesson I know I am going to get. In this installment, we get to know more about the history of the Catholic Church – the role that Constantine played in cementing the church as a power player in the world, the Nicaen Creed, the evolution of the Hospitallers, Napoleon’s siege of Malta, the role of the popes during the rise of Fascism and Mussolini in Italy and so much more. Knights of Malta play an important role in this story and it was very interesting to know more about their history and also that they exist to this day, as one of the smallest sovereign nations in the world. The island of Malta is also described beautifully in detail and I couldn’t resist looking up google for the pictures. As always, Steve Berry succeeds in adding one more place to the list of unending places I would love to visit in my lifetime.
The story takes place just a day before the Conclave is about to begin in the Vatican and that time constraint makes sure that the plot is very fast paced. We are also introduced to two new characters – twin brothers one of whom wants to be the next pope and is ready to resort to all sorts of cunning machinations to achieve his goal. I was very invested in the mystery right from the get go and did not see any of the twists coming, which was a pleasant surprise. The ending is not as explosive as I would have liked, but I also kinda saw it coming because it was happening at the Vatican.
If you love Steve Berry and Cotton Malone, you already know that you are going to read this one and I assure you that it’s thrilling and interesting and a lot of fun. If you are new to the series, it might work as a standalone because the mystery and history elements are very fascinating and the author gives us just enough backstory to be able to understand where the characters come from, but I also feel you might miss the experience of actually getting to know them from the beginning.
PS: Thank you to Netgalley and Minotaur Books for providing me with the advance copy of this wonderful book. All opinions expressed here unbiased and solely mine.