“So much more fun than another Boleyn book” INDEPENDENT
“Speedy, gripping historical fiction” MARIE CLAIRE
“Compelling, exotic and fast-paced” VANORA BENNET
I can’t disagree with the critics too much on this one. As a big fan of historical fiction I agree with The Independent that it’s nice to have a break from endless books about the Tudors. This book featured a period and location I knew next to nothing about.
It’s set in late 12th century Istanbul (Constantinople as it was then) and follows the story of Agnes, a French Princess who is betrothed to the heir to the Byzantium Empire. I found myself regularly googling the characters while reading to find out more about their real life histories – which is a pretty good indication that I was engaged by the story.
The most interesting character is Andronikos, Agnes’ second husband and Byzantine Emperor 1183-85. He sounds like he had quite the interesting life full of violence and scandalous love affairs, a life that ended with a particularly nasty death (not too much of a spoiler I hope). I definitely want to read more about him, Umberto Eco wrote a novel about him called ‘Baudolino’ which I might take a look at, although the review I read of this said the novel has a strong focus on his grisly death so it might not be a book for the faint-hearted!
Overall it was an exciting story and I was constantly keen to find out what happened next so read it pretty quickly for a fairly long book (about 500 pages). I liked that a historical book with a female protagonist didn’t focus on romance, although Agnes does have a love affair (aside from her political marriages) it is not the main focus of the book, the focus is more on the political shifts in power at the court and contains far more violence scenes than it does moments of passion.
This book didn’t shy away from the violence of the times.
Although I liked the fact the focus was on action this did mean that the characters weren’t perhaps as well drawn as they could have been. I didn’t really feel an affinity with anyone and although I wanted to know what happened to them, didn’t really care too much when people were killed off. I guess that would be my main criticism. I also found the dialogue quite weak and occasionally found it a bit unexpected for a historical piece, for example – characters say things like “you’re on your own mate” and the F-word is used liberally and a Byzantine general is referred to by his follows as ‘boss’. This may not be a valid criticism at all, how do I know people in 12th century Byzantium didn’t talk like this? I think it has more to do with my expectations – formed by being raised a diet of BBC costume dramas where everyone pre-1900 speaks in a very formal style!
Overall, pretty good and I would recommend it
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