Angels in Iron
Written by: Nicholas C. Prata
Published By: Arx Publishing
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
After reading Dream of Fire and Kerebos and finding them extremely enjoyable, the author, Nicholas C. Prata, told me about another book of his that I was sure to enjoy. The way he spoke of Angels in Iron, I could tell he took great pride in this, his first book, and I was determined to get my hands on a copy.
Angels in Iron tells the tale of the Siege of Malta, fought in 1565 between the Knights Hospitaller (also known as the Knights of St. John) and the Ottoman Empire. The war is mainly about religion, as many of the most violent and bloodiest battles in history are, pitting the Christian faith against the Muslims of Islam. The Siege of Malta is extremely significant, because had the Ottoman Empire succeeded in defeating the Knights at Malta, Western Civilization as we know it might have been extremely different.
The book begins on January 1, 1523 with the fall of Rhodes to Sultan Suleiman. Although he is allowed to leave unmolested, Hospitaller Jean Parisot de Valette feels disgraced; a failure for having to surrender a land he fought most valiantly to protect. He vows he will never relinquish quarter to the Turks again.
Years later, Valette is now Grand Master of the Hospitallers. Called upon to protect Malta from Suleiman’s advancing forces, Grand Master Valette sends for his knights and they answer the call from far and wide. Pope Pius V finances the war alone, the effort to defend Malta receiving little help from anyone else in Europe. Perhaps the defense of Malta was deemed unimportant and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but the Hospitallers would have to make do with what they had, with little help in the form of money, stores or men, to get the job done.
To conquer Malta, Sultan Suleiman puts his trust in a somewhat triumvirate of leaders: Mustapha, Pasha of the Turkish Army; Piali, Admiral of the navy and Dragut Rais, the famous pirate. The battle is begun at Fort St. Elmo, sparsely defended and a perfect target for Mustapha’s army to pick at from Mount Sciberras. The defenders of St. Elmo were bombarded daily with cannon and gunshot and then subjected to vicious ground attacks by the Turk ground forces. But no matter how much damage is done to the Hospitaller forces, they manage to turn back the Turks time and time again, with the Turks suffering incredible losses as compared to those of the Hospitallers.
The battle rages on with Dragut joining the fight despite his disappointment at the Pasha and the Admiral’s decision to devote so much time, resources and men to capturing St. Elmo, when they would have been better served conquering Gozo and Mdina thereby preventing the Hospitallers from receiving aid from Sicily. But despite the incompetence of those in charge of the Turkish forces, their numbers overwhelm the Hospitaller forces. And yet, despite all of the losses, the despair and seemingly unwinnable battle, history shows the Hospitallers come out on top in the end.
Despite knowing what will happen at Malta, Nicholas C. Prata makes us forget that this is a historical account. We are introduced in a very personal way to many of the Hospitallers prior to the battle. This tactic brings the valiant men fighting at Malta much closer to the reader. We become personally and emotionally invested in their outcome and feel the pain of their losses, especially those lost at St. Elmo. Their deaths and the desecration of the warriors anger us to no end.
Nicolas C. Prata did his research with this book, using accounts of the battle to lend credence to the events of the story that may not have been chronicled. The battles are extremely detailed and Prata dials up the tension with his descriptive writing style. I loved the way, despite the fact that Prata mainly tells the tale from the point of view of the Christian fighters, he points out the similarities between both religions discovered by members of both sides of the battle.
If you love reading historical accounts of military battles that offer up not only the tactical side of the battle, but the human side as well, Angels in Iron is definitely a book for you. Of course, if you are faint of heart, I suppose I should warn you that the battles fought in this siege were extremely violent and bloody and Prata doesn’t let up on the details. So, if you are squeamish, you might take issue with this book. I, for one, think Nicholas C. Prata has every right to be proud of Angels in Iron. In fact, although I loved every one of Prata’s books, I think Angels in Iron represents some of his best work to date.