This is the second adventure of Aelric – a good looking, vain but intelligent Briton in the service of the church in Rome (the premiere having been in Conspiracies of Rome). The author does a very credible job of bringing the 7th century Byzantium to life, with all the little (and not so little) political games, the continuation of the Roman ‘panem et circenses’ approach of keeping the masses in line, albeit enriched with a much more Machiavellian and dark undertone in the form of an early form of police state.
The protagonist is definitely selfish, vain and in some ways less than morally spotless individual, yet for all his failings possessed of a charm all his own, often given to bouts of generosity or insight. The readers’ ability to relate to him / accept him, will be the significant determinant of whether they like the book or not.
The surroundings are definitely based on sound historical research and Aelric finds himself in Byzantium in the final days of the rule of Phocas. While the lesser historical personalities are then – as usual in such writing – occasionally fictional, the reader will still get a basic understanding of the period and issues faced at the times.
The writing is fairly conversational and modern – in the sense that it will not require any sort of adjustment for a 21st century reader to read the book. Whether this is a step too far in bringing the subject matter closer to modern readers will need to be judged by each one separately but it may very well alienate the more traditional ones.
Overall I found the book quite interesting and definitely easy to digest. It seems to ride on a wave of books covering Byzantium, which until recently has probably not featured so richly in historical fiction but given the longevity and adaptability of the empire, it definitely deserves to. Another in the genre is for instance the Strategos trilogy (starting with Strategos: Born in the Borderlands (Strategos 1)) set later, in the 11th century – a trilogy I would also recommend.
In any case, if you liked Aelric in his Roman adventures (Conspiracies of Rome), you will probably enjoy this, and in the meantime there is more in the same vein from the author, namely The Blood of Alexandria, The Sword of Damascus (Aelric), The Ghosts of Athens (Aelric) or The Curse of Babylon (Aelric Book 6).
Published on Amazon on 8th September 2014
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