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The Best Blake Yet, 16 Jun 2010
This review is from: The Blood of Alexandria (Hardcover)
I discovered Richard Blake in 2008. I am a big fan of ‘Conspiracies of Rome’, and I greatly enjoyed ‘Terror of Constantinople’. When I heard there was another one on the way, I could barely wait. I was also more than a little apprehensive. Sequels (and sequels of sequels) are often increasingly disappointing. I had been lucky once with Mr Blake, but this was hardly a guarantee of his continued excellence. But I have now read ‘Blood of Alexandria’, and while I would be the first to say it is not in fact the best novel I have read, it is certainly the best historical novel I have read. Indeed, it is better even than his first, which I have come to prefer to the admittedly more richly-studied and sophisticated follow-up (possibly because it seems to me to be in some way "purer"). But what more of this one? Well, the best idea I can give you of it is to as you if you would like to know 7th century Alexandria. If you would, this is the book for you. Would you like to see the mummy of Alexander the Great? Would you like to see the Great Pyramid before the Arabs chose to deprive it of its limestone casing? Would you to see, hear, smell and taste a world that is long-dead, and may never have existed quite as depicted here, but which is presented with the utmost persausiveness and plausibility? Blake’s knack for setting the scene is one of his greatest strengths. He has never been less than impressive in this respect, but here he excels himself: we are presented with a veritable rogue’s gallery of disreputable but entirely credible characters. We are also left in no doubt that this is exactly how clever, ruthless people behave when plunged into an interlocking set of crises. Mr Blake’s writing is fluent, immersive and so subtly expositional that we are able to persuade ourselves that the guilty pleasure of reading his works is tempered by their educational value. As we have come to expect, there are many moments of delicious black comedy, and many moments of shocking horror. And, driving everyone and everything inexorably on, is a plot as logical, complex and aesthetically and intellectually satisfying as a Bach fugue. It is a plot that picks us up on page one and does not allow us a moment’s peace of mind until the moment when it sets us down, cathartically exhausted, five hundred pages later.