610AD. Invaded by Persians and barbarians, the Byzantine Empire is also tearing itself apart in civil war. Phocas, the maniacally bloodthirsty Emperor, holds Constantinople by a reign of terror. The uninvaded provinces are turning one at a time to the usurper, Heraclius.
Just as the battle for the Empire approaches its climax, Aelric of England turns up in Constantinople. Blackmailed by the Papacy to leave off his career of lechery and market-rigging in Rome, he thinks his job is to gather texts for a semi-comprehensible dispute over the Nature of Christ. Only gradually does he realise he is a pawn in a much larger game.
What is the eunuch Theophanes up to? Why does the Papal Legate never show himself? How many drugs can the Emperor’s son-in-law take before he loses his touch for homicidal torture? Above all, why has wicked old Phocas taken Aelric under his wing?
To answer these questions, Aelric has nothing but beauty, charm, intellectual brilliance and a talent for cold and ruthless violence on his side.
“[Blake’s] plotting can seem off-puttingly anarchic until the penny drops that everyone is simultaneously embroiled in multiple, often conflicting, scams. Aelric’s survival among the last knockings of empire in Constantinople depends not on deducing who wants him dead, but who wants him dead at any given moment.” The Daily Telegraph