The Empress by Meg Clothier

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The Empress by Meg Clothier

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A ripping hist fict that throws us into the cruel intrigue of Byzantium through the eyes of Agnes, a daughter of France's Louis VII and empress over and over again. Wonderful stuff!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 512 Date: November 2013
Publisher: Arrow
ISBN: 978-0099553144

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It's 1179 and Agnes, daughter of King Louis VII is sent to Byzantium to marry the Emperor's young son and heir. However the child in question, Alexios, is more a drip than a chip off his father's block. This leaves Agnes having to work on her own strategy for survival. For this is a world where everyone is paranoid, and with good reason as everyone is a target and Agnes is merely a stepping stone to power as the hordes close in literally as well as figuratively.

As fans we know that there are various forms of historical fiction. There's the close-to-the-fact stories that inform as well as entertain a la Philippa Gregory, the historical-basis-and-flight-of-fancy combo from writers like Ella March Chase and then there's The Empress. Here British author and historian Meg Clothier sticks as far as possible to the facts and we benefit from those she's chosen to portray lending themselves to a ripping adventure. All we can do is hang on for the ride. Indeed, although it reads like an epic fantasy minus the magic, it's actually mostly true.

Mostly? Yes, Meg tweaked history here and there, as she points out in her notes; yet not for dramatic effect. On the contrary: it's to fit in with our modern sensibilities. For instance Agnes was reputed to be only 8 when she arrived in the young heir's bed. Therefore, so as not to turn us against characters (Yep, plural) to whom Agnes offers her... err... charms, Meg cranks up Agnes' birth certificate to make her post-pubescent.

Apart from Agnes, the stand out guy in the story is Andronikas, someone I quite warmed to for quite a long time. I won't spoil it by telling you precisely where he fits in the story, but let's just say he's the total opposite to mummy's boy Alexios. Can't blame him as Mummy is a scheming wotsit whom no offspring would dare cross but Andronikas makes her look like Snow White. We just gawp as he oozes charm and malevolence in equal measure. (Meg demonstrating her skill here by stopping short of writing a pantomime character.)

Agnes has a head on her shoulders and knows how to retain it in a Byzantine court rippling with intrigue, manipulation and downright brutality, akin to life with the Borgias. This leaves the lass to navigate her way around imminent danger, despite the fire awaiting her emergence from the frying pan.

Supported by people like Constantinous the cocky eunuch and young Theo Brantas, the cheeky lad who grows up to be an acclaimed military tactician, there is much opportunity for gore, salty language and a lot of entertaining banter. We're also presented with opportunities to bite our nails while New Rome (as Byzantium thought of itself) is threatened from within and without just like the old one.

For those who remember Meg from The Girl King the modern colloquialisms still seep in but feel less invasive. My only complaint is that, as in her previous work, Meg provides extensive 'what happens next' notes at the end, scuppering any chance of a sequel. (She does cleverly connect the two novels in passing via a minor character though.)

Once you've finished the book, do search-engine the history; it's fascinating stuff and we have people like Ms Clothier to thank for bringing the Byzantines to our attention and, in my case, becoming totally hooked.

We'd very much like to thank Arrow for providing us with review copy.

Further Reading: If you want to read more of Meg's work, then do try The Girl King. If you want to stick around Byzantium we recommend The Sheen on the Silk by Anne Perry.

Buy The Empress by Meg Clothier at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Empress by Meg Clothier at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Empress by Meg Clothier at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Empress by Meg Clothier at Amazon.com.


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