612 AD. No longer the glorious cradle of all art and science, Athens is a ruined provincial city in one of the Byzantine Empire’s less vital provinces. Why, then, has the Emperor diverted Aelric’s ship home from Egypt to send him here? Why has he included Priscus in the warrant? Surely, they have more important business in Constantinople. Isn’t Aelric needed to save the Empire’s finances, and Priscus to lead its armies against the Persians? Or has the Emperor decided to blame them for the bloodbath they presided over in Egypt?
Or could it be that Aelric’s latest job just to manage a council of Eastern and Western Bishops more inclined to kick each other to death than agree to a wildly controversial position on the Nature of Christ?
Hard to say. Impossible to say. When did Heraclius ever explain his reasons – assuming he had any in the first place? The only certainty is that Aelric finds himself in a derelict palace of dark and endless corridors and of rooms that Martin, his cowardly secretary, assures him pulse with an ancient evil.
Add to this a headless corpse, drained of its blood, a bizarre cult of the self-emasculated, embezzlement, a city rabble on the edge of revolution – and the approach of an army rumoured to contain twenty million starving barbarians.
Is Aelric on a high level mission to save the Empire? Or has he been set up to fail? Or is the truth even worse than he can at first imagine?
This fifth novel in the series blends historical fiction with gothic horror. Not surprisingly, Aelric may find even the vile Priscus a welcome ally. Or perhaps he won’t….
‘It would be hard to over-praise this extraordinary series, a near-perfect blend of historical detail and atmosphere with the plot of a conspiracy thriller, vivid characters, high philosophy and vulgar comedy.” The Morning Star