Terror of Constantinople, Reviewed by Michael Paul

Regularly I find myself reading a book of undoubted literary genius. The characters are fascinating, the plot is so juicy you could make a fruit salad from it and it has all the makings of a classic that will survive the transitory nature of time. However, there is a rather large issue weighing on my mind. A hippo, if you will, has plonked itself unceremoniously in the back of my waking thoughts. This problem is as follows; it has taken three sodding weeks to read ten pages of this lexical masterpiece.

You know exactly what I mean, we’ve all experienced it. The dreaded “heavy read”. What is most annoying is that because we know what a rip roaring, snort wangling read it is, we feel guilty (or just plain moronic) for not being able to plough on through and then add it to the list of books we can boast about having read to our lesser read acquaintances.

This is more irritating than a mosquito that has a distinct smell of vinegar. Very unpalatable i’m sure you will agree. But I am here to assure that you no longer have to feel that sense of gnawing guilt as you slam the book down unceremoniously and get out the FHM magazine. There is another way!

Reading is, after all, about enjoying yourself whilst not having the distractions of people making life excessively complicated for you.

Conspiracies of Rome by Richard Blake and the sequel in the series entitled The Terror of Constantinople represent this alternative. Historical fiction can sometimes be sniffed upon the same as when your pet dog plants his most intimate business in the middle of your Persian rug. They are truly enjoyable to read, and if you’ve had this beaten out of you by some vague sense of responsibility to read Nietzsche and Thucydides every week then this is the perfect cure.

Set in the period following the decimation of the Roman Empire and the ascension of the Roman Church a young Briton named Aelric stumbles rather haphazardly into a series of events that see him traveling to Rome. The plot uncovers, as the title suggests, various conspiracies coming from several different directions. Through a combination of luck, naivety and the fact that he looks “gorgeous” (according to himself) he navigates his way through the machinations of the Roman Church and a secret organization called the Column of Phocas.

It has whit in abundance, along with a good amount of action, some intriguingly gory details and is sprinkled quite pleasantly with some legitimate wisdom, if you keep your eyes open for it.

The second book is full of the same qualities but the storyline is much more available for the whit that has brief showings in the first volume. Character wise The Terror of Constantinople (which is set in the middle of a civil war in the Eastern Roman Empire) is infinitely superior. It also contains the phrase “necrophiliac fist job” which, frankly, should have you all sold on it.

Admittedly there is a problem with books of this particular genre. They tend to be written by the academic types, professors of Classics and various posts along those lines. Sometimes it is glaringly obvious that they have slipped back into academic mode and the story can stagnate somewhat. For instance when Blake describes the hippodrome in Constantinople he gives a description which is down to the inch, which seems slightly show offy and unnecessary in my book. But these deviations from storyteller to student borer are extremely rare and the chances are you may not even notice it.

Both books have a nostalgic atmosphere to them, in that they describe with harrowing detail the decimation and decline of the Roman Empire. What was once the beacon of the civilized world is by now a slum with all the majesty of the past ripped away by an overly powerful and corrupt church. Whether this is an intentional colouring by the author or a representation of history and how Europe slipped into the dark ages during the domination of the church, I will leave for you to ponder upon.

Nevertheless, if you find yourselves wanting to read a book in a couple of days without giving you a stomach ulcer from the stress of reading it, then I strongly recommend these two thoroughly enjoyable books. Incidentally the third book in the series is also available, and is set in Alexandria.

But for now, content yourself with the first two. Stop being boring and reading obscure South American Literature. Branch out, read a book that does not a take a doctorate to read and actually remind yourself what a thoroughly entertaining read is all about.

Published on Thoroughly Thought Through
25th September 2010

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