The Last Crusade – The Epic Voyages of Vasco Da Gama – Nigel Cliff

So after a bit of a hiatus I’m going to attempt to catch up on my reviews, I’m actually about twelve or so books behind, so wish me luck..

The portuguese commaner was of medium height, with a strong, stocky build and a florid, angular face that looked as if it were welded from plates of copper.  By birth he was a gentleman of the court, though his beetling brow, beak nose, cruelly sensuous moth and bushy beard made him look more like a pirate leader

In 1498 Vasco da Gama sailed from Lisbon to find a sea route to India, in a mission to open up a direct route to the spices of the east.  It would involve sailing down the coast of Africa, further than any European had gone before and crossing the Indian Ocean into hostile Muslim territory.  It was the longest voyage known to history, and an incredible feat of adventure and determination.  10 months later the battered fleet arrived at the port of Calicut, and the first European to set foot onto this mystical shore was a convicted criminal.

Vasco Da Gama would return twice more to India, the last time as a governor to try and re-assert royal dominance on a wayward colony, he did not come home.
Nigel Cliff covers what is for me part of a fascinating period of history, where adventurers pushed back the borders of their civilisations to discover, map and most importantly, conquer the unknown.  The level of research for this book is staggering, yet it is delivered in an easy, swashbuckling manner that is almost novel like, and that meant I eagerly turned every page.
Tied into the battle to open a route for spices, is the ongoing battle for supremacy between Christianity and Islam that still resonates today, and Cliff sets the narrative in the context of it’s time, and creates an epic that brings the voyages vividly to life and the collision between two opposing cultures, while still focusing on the astounding feat of the voyages themselves, even including Cabral’s inadvertent discovery of Brazil, his ships becoming the first to touch four continents.

Of course after the discovery came the colonisation, As the Christians sought to push the Muslims from the position of power with the powerful Indian rulers, and at the same time keep their route exclusive from other countries looking to grab a piece of the lucrative trade. As the new dominions spiralled out of control there was one man Portugal sent back to try and rescue their eastern empire, the very man who discovered it for them in the first place.