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  • Writer's pictureMartin Vine

Author's Picks | The Twelve Children of Paris

It's not the author's intention to add an extensive reviews section to the blog, but occasionally I come across something so mind-blowing that sharing it is almost a moral imperative. For that reason I've intentionally labelled the category as "Author's picks", as opposed to the more traditional "Reviews". please don't be shy about leaving feedback in the Comments section below.

Full disclosure: I’ve been reading The Twelve Children of Paris for a lot longer than I care to admit. That I’ve not yet reached the final chapter is down to the distraction of editing Hopskotch and the Rising Sons to a publishable standard, and certainly not the content and quality of the story. I do occasionally read books on history and civilisations (and promise not to bore you with that), but rarely wander into the realm of historical fiction. I devoured James A. Michener's Centennial back in the day, and went on to read a few of his other epics. Author Tim Willocks is of another style altogether, tilting heavily in favour of fiction over history.

And character. Willocks does it as good as any, and better than most. His writing is so damned good it’s a mystery to me that so few have ever heard of him. I only discovered him via a Facebook friend once-removed, who recommended The Religion, the novel that first introduces the protagonist Mattias Tannhauser.

And what an introduction. Tannhauser is a kind of medieval John Wick – a killing machine so proficient at his art he’d put a smile on the face of even the most dour undertaker. I didn’t even attempt to tally the body count, but at this point should shout out that this one is definitely not for children. Willock’s intimate knowledge of anatomy – and how to target the weak points for instant death – may be attributed to the fact that he's a physician (Carla’s drawn-out labour scene is another giveaway). But you will rarely read scenes of blood-soaked violence penned with such poetic artistry.

The Twelve Children

Having survived the Ottoman siege of Malta, Tannhauser travels to Paris to be reunited with his heavily pregnant wife. His timing could not have been worse, unknowingly arriving on the eve of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre. Amidst the unfolding religious bloodshed, Tannhauser faces a rogues’ gallery of antagonists trying to thwart his reunion, a wayward (adopted) son in need of rescuing, and a motley collection of lost souls seeking the protection of his considerable armoury. At no point do you imagine anything bad will befall Tannhauser, but the tension builds as the city descends further into chaos, and the distance between the couple grows ever wider.

The brutality is interrupted with moments of contrasting tenderness. Tannhauser pivots between the two as circumstance demand, and forms more than a few unlikely alliances in his quest to reunite with his beloved. I’m not sure how many corpses lie between my current bookmark and the final page, but section 5 is titled “Direful Slaughtering Death” so I suspect Willocks has piled 'em high and bloody on the approach to the final act.

Will Tannhauser be reunited with his Carla? Will he ever get to sheathe his sword? Or is there another impending historical, religious bloodbath demanding its pointy end? At some point the author intends to take a break from this blog to find out.

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