Blake, Richard – ‘The Terror of Constantinople’
Paperback: 432 pages (Jan. 2010) Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks ISBN: 034095115X
The best type of books are those that lift you out of your surroundings and immerse you completely in the action, sounds and atmosphere of another time and place. Blake does just this with THE TERROR OF CONSTANTINOPLE and it was a real shame to finish the final page, as Constantinople was a fascinating place to visit, albeit just in my head. It is so very obvious that Blake, a historian, knows a great deal about the Roman Empire and goings-on at that time. The details in this book are so life-like that they carry you away on a tide of ancient history….and blood.
Aelric, a young and ambitious English man, is sent, by the Roman authorities, to Constantinople, in order to seek out and copy religious texts in their various libraries and solve some of the doctrinal controversies of the new Christian faith. Aelric is smart and streetwise but none too happy at the prospect of leaving his lady and unborn child alone for who knows how long. However, he has no choice in the matter and soon finds out that there are other, more sinister, reasons for his trip. He becomes embroiled in solving a murder and, indeed, has more than one attempt on his own life. He is taken captive, but escapes, is put in impossible situations by the emperor, Phocas, and has to rely on his wits and charm to save not only his own life, but those of his slaves and close companions.
Aelric is an extremely likeable character. He is a delightful mixture of energy, cheekiness, intelligence and, even, vulnerability – although he wouldn’t be at all happy for being described in this way. He longs to just go home and be with Greta, his lady, and wants to be present at the birth of his child. He shows real compassion regarding his slaves and not only treats them well but frees more than one of them in gratitude for their service to him. The book is written in terms of being his memoirs, as he sits in a monastery in England in his old age and reflects fondly on the memories of his somewhat reckless youth.
THE TERROR OF CONSTANTINOPLE is a very absorbing and interesting read. It is extremely well written but at the same time isn’t a particularly challenging book to read – just perfect for reading in bed or on the bus.
Amanda C M Gillies, Scotland