TOURNAMENT OF SHADOWS by S. A. Meade
Captain Gabriel O'Riordan and Valentin Yakolev meet on the dusty road to a citadel in a Moslem Middle Eastern land. The British operative, disguised as a holy scholar, notices the Russian's interest in him and wonders at it, whether it is the interest of another clandestine diplomatic operative or something more personal, more intimate. Forced to be wary, Gabriel nevertheless must trust Valentin if he wants to free the British diplomats in the Emir's dungeon. The two men have at least one thing in common: they are each weary of their clandestine espionage work. This most recent assignment turns out to take a hefty toll on them, especially Valentin who has spent a horrendous time in a deep hole with rats and scorpions. They connect as men who love men, but since Gabriel suspects the Russian of having a hand in an incident in Kabul where Gabriel's friends suffered and were killed, even as they travel north through Russia he cannot let himself the trust the troubled man.
This is a fairly simple story with individualistic characters that suffers somewhat from not knowing if it is intrigue or romance. This would not be a problem if well blended, but as the steady, even relentless action just fizzles out as they start up the river to the north, the change from adventure to conflicts of the heart is a bit jarring. Along with some minor continuity issues, the result is an uneven tale. The meaning of the book's title utterly baffles me.However for the simple escapism of a couple dashing heroes getting it on in service to king – or czar – and country and the fluid writing and depth of characterization, it is certainly worth a read.
Review by Christopher Hawthorne Moss anc reprinted with permission from MM Good Book Reviews