Whoever came up with the ludicrous title of this book should be shot. Ditto whoever commissioned the Ocover.
Once you get past these possibly killing defects, what you have is the sixth in Richard Blake’s series of Byzantine thrillers, and this one really is the best of the lot.
You have Aelric – no longer the disreputable chancer from Kent, but the Lord Treasurer Aelric, shrewd and Thatcherite manager of the Empire’s finances. Oh, life is sweet for the vicious but charming young rogue. All he has to do is keep a certain Secret to himself, and he can snap his fingers at the army of the well-connected who long to see his head on a stake in one of the main public squares of Constantinople.
Of course, everything goes pear-shaped in the first chapter. The gift of an ancient and possibly enchanted cup sends Aelric on a trail that takes him through the slums of Constantinople, to capture by the Persians, and escape from the Persians, and a relationship with the sort of woman anyone with an ounce of sense would dump before meeting.
Or you have Priscus, the nastiest and most corrupt general Byzantium ever produced. Or you have the insane Great King of Persia, with his Choir of a Thousand Eunuchs. Or you have Nicetas, cousin of the Emperor and the most incompetent general Byzantium ever produced – his bad legs and religious mania actually make things better, so far as they let his hairdresser direct a battle into a less disastrous outcome.
Or you have the city of Constantinople itself – huge and menacing and simmering with revolt outside its glittering centre.
This is a book that calls for page after page of superlatives.I haven’t enjoyed an historical novel so much since I read Patrick O’Brian’s “Master and Commander“. I will only add to what I’ve said already that its great bonus is a shattering and historic and quite unexpected battle as its climax. Blake doesn’t do battles very often – a shame, as he does this one outstandingly well.
My only reservation is the lack of an explanation of what happens to the True Cross. It is mentioned. It floats above the plot, and then vanishes without explanation. A small reservation, even so, set beside the general excellence of the book.
Ten out of ten for Richard Blake. Nul points for the marketing people at Hodder & Bodger. They have done a superb job of turning readers away from one of our best living novelists.
Review on Amazon, 25th February 2018
© 2018, richardblake.
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