Unlike its three predecessors, The Sword of Damascus (Damascus) takes place shortly before the narrative of the 96-year-old Aelric from the monastery at Jarrow (and not 70 some-odd years prior). This definitely puts a different spin on the story, with Aelric suffering from the physical shortcomings wrought with age – with death soon looming — instead of from the view of a handsome and energetic 20-something.
Readers are advised to read the prior books in order (Rome, Constantinople, and Alexandria) before delving into Damascus. Without the knowledge of what happened previously, the tale and the relationships between the characters in this tale would be very hard, if not impossible, to follow. That said, I really enjoyed the story and the vivid descriptions of late 7th century life and the transcendently dark but driving aspects of human nature (greed, avarice, decadence and mayhem) that was alive then as it still is now.
Main character Aleric/Alaric has really grown on me in his old age. Hence my highest rating.
Now some report having a big problem with Blake’s vivid depiction of some obscene and gruesome scenes. After Damascus, they swear they will never read another Aleric tale. Good riddance to them. Unlike other writers of historical fiction, Blake does not shy from writing about well-documented, let's face it common, historical depravities such as rape, torture, and, yes, lustful necromancy. Such travesties and horrors undoubtedly occurred in the past, in these times, by these peoples. True fans of historical fiction should not be afraid to read about them and contemplate what their occurrence may mean about humanity's shared history.
Perceptive readers will recognize Blake's esoteric warnings of unchecked political power, religious zealousness, and cultural relativism I believe he could not help but impart throughout the story. The powerful and rich have treated (and continue today to treat) the powerless and poor inconceivably cruelly and in ways of utter disdain.
Maybe it is just that some societies, especially my beloved Western ones, have a strong capacity to hide such mistreatments from our day-to-day view?
Similar to previous Alaric adventures, Damascus is sprinkled with some excellently endearing quotes, including:
· “When I was younger, I believed the conventional wisdom that lust is abolished by age. Then I found out that, if lust may be dulled, all that really goes is the ready means of satisfying it.”
· “…there’s no reasoning with the barbarian mind. You’ll get more sense out of women or idiot children.”
· “Rather as young women look at each other to see who might be fairest, so the very old look at each other to see who is more broken down and ready for the grave.
Published on Goodreads, on the 18th May 2016
© 2016, richardblake.
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