Blood of Alexandria, Reviewed by James

After thoroughly being disenchanted with the screenplay, historically liberal photo-jacket offerings of Iggulden, I’ve steered clear of similar offerings from the likes of Anthony Riches, Douglas Jackson, Harry Sidebottom or John Stack. However, I gave way – probably due to the passage of time fading my responses – and picked up Richard Blake’s latest offering.

I was wincing after two pages. We are told in a “prologue” dated 688 that our now 98yr old protagonist – who’s got the channel swimming skills to match David Walliams – is freely cheerful to criticize the literacy of all around him whilst embarking on use of words found in the English lexicon well after the supposed date. Words like “shite” (a modernization of the more obvious 16th century word) and “stove” (17th century) and “piss” (14th century) appear within the first tedious opening pages. Indeed, I find it somewhat incredible the publisher and editor has permitted the use of some of the words used to describe the Alexandrian populace throughout.

OK…so this novel is one of “those”, written by a historian who has tried to appeal by “translating” his main characters speech into some kind of adrenaline-fuelled, street-wise and trendy twenty first century bonhomie. Fair enough. On with the plot.

Having saved a pupil and beaten the rest like some kind of Victorian-esque magister, we retreat back to 612A.D where our twenty-two year old hero, Aelric, finds himself in a slightly faded Alexandria. A little like a postcard that’s curling at the edges, it is the scene for Aelric to carry out his mission for Emperor Heraclius -namely a modern day Tiberius Gracchus or forerunner to the iconic Robin Hood – to steal from the dastardly rich and give to the deserving poor. We trail our erstwhile hero as he moves in and out of Alexandria, generally shows up his poor understanding of the cultural diversity of Egypt compared to Constantinople, chases a caricature wanna-be Pharaoh, Lucas, into the desert, meets the somewhat unalluring “Mistress”, dices continuously with the ever–suffering haemorrhoids secretary, Martin, and the silent Macarius, fends off the obese Nicetas and pompous Patriarch and deals with the “I am not sure if I am overly foppish or actually a hardened warrior” Priscus.

Having got off to a poor start, pages 50 -150 were not too bad. A pontificating rant about politics by Aelric peaked the book, however, and after that our “hero” proves himself more buffoon than arch-politician as he finds fear at the hands of the baying mob, spends most of his time in witty sarcasm on Lucas, and finally, in some kind of Indiana Jones lackadaisical effort, searches under Seteropolis to locate the last works of Eratosthenes amongst the remnants of a lost civilisation whose barbarity and human sacrifice seems dragged out of a pre-GCSE depiction of the Aztecs.

My problem with this book is that the character of Aelric seems directionless. There’s no common theme underlying the book from the outset and it reads like a novel that’s written itself as the author meanders along. It needs a clear, crisp theme from the start and the author’s over-zealous descriptions at the Priscus’ putting down of the revolt with how many different ways a stave can be used to make a metaphorical and literal point sums up the effort – style but no substance. It’s not screenplay but it is scene-snapshot in style providing a disjointed jerkiness that does it little favours. I had hopes as I delved in, but ended disappointed and it took a conscious effort of reading 20-30 pages at a time to actually finish it. Not an author I’ll eagerly look for on the shelves for a while.

Published on Amazon
12th July 2010

© 2015, richardblake.

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