|The Walls of Byzantium (The Mistra Chronicles) by James Heneage|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A highly researched, panoramic historical epic set against the conflicting Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Some may feel it's a bit long but the story captured my imagination enough to look forward to the second of the trilogy.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 576||Date: July 2013|
|Publisher: Heron Books|
Luke Magoris is heading for disgrace which means a lot since he's the son of a Varangian, the Viking-originated elite guard of the Byzantine Emperor. Anna Lasaris daughter to a Byzantine court official and, feisty but kind, is the opposite of the Archon's daughter Zoe. As politically adept as her brother is inept, Zoe will do anything for status and money… anything. As the 14th century Byzantine Empire starts to crumble due to the relentless struggle with the Islamic Turks and Mistra becomes the only province left for the Turks to conquer, their paths will cross. They're all young but they'll soon discover that treachery can emanate from friendship as much as it can from war.
James Heneage may not be recognisable as debut novelist, but if I mention that he was the founder of Ottakers, the marvellous bookstore chain that became part of Waterstones, those of a certain age will smile and nod. So how has James scrubbed up as an author? Not badly at all.
James loves history and communicates that love with enthusiasm bathing us in an era and world that I didn't know much about. The insights into the Turks' Islamic culture are fascinating and the plight and fight of the mastic growers (not the stuff we seal our baths with by the way) shows us that wars over natural resources isn’t a recent concept. There are moments that gave the impression that he didn't want to waste any of his research (as when he describes a procession component by component) but I can understand some military enthusiasts revelling in the detail.
The author also wins my creative plotter of the year award as he ensures that the strategic cast members are together in varying locations simultaneously; no mean feat as the novel takes us to Italy, Greece and the Middle East. This means that as essentially the same people keep bumping into each other, there's no mile-long character list for us to memorise. This isn't a complaint – there's no need for many characters when these are so colourful.
As well as the brave, busy Luke, the beautiful put-upon Anna and the cleverly Machiavellian Zoe, we are introduced to Venetians, leaders, the odd lusty potentate (yes, there is much practised lust) and Plethon the Venetian-hating translator that brightens the page with his presence. (The Venetians were the arms dealers of Europe so a mistrusted necessity for large fighting factions.)
There is also bloodletting but not dwelt on to the extent of graphic butchery and, in my advance review copy (which may differ from the copies in the shops) one instance of that controversial 'c' word, although the book doesn’t deserve to be judged on that as it’s in context and it’s use adds to the impact of the scene.
On the whole Walls of Byzantium may include a little bit of overwriting but it's a first instalment and, as I've said before of other first instalments, they're almost never the best of a series. There was enough excitement and riveting history to keep me going through to the end and enough loose ends and intrigue for me to eagerly anticipate what lies ahead.
What does lie ahead? Well there are teasers about the possible arrival of Tamerlane, the self-proclaimed sword of Islam. Having done a bit of sneaky historical research of my own, I will just say be afraid Ottoman Turks… be very afraid!
If you've enjoyed this and would like to read more of the Ottoman Empire, try The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Walls of Byzantium (The Mistra Chronicles) by James Heneage at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Walls of Byzantium (The Mistra Chronicles) by James Heneage at Amazon.com.
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