Another One from Mr Blake

Sword of Damascus by Richard Blake Published by Hodder & Stoughton Paperback Edition: 16th February 2012 432pp, £7.99 Kindle Version  £6.99 ISBN: 978-1444709681

Richard Blake’s novel The Sword of Damascus, has now been published in paperback by Hodder & Stoughton. His earlier novels have been translated into Spanish, Italian, Greek, Hungarian, Slovak and Complex Chinese. This is the fourth in his series of critically-acclaimed and internationally best-selling historical thrillers.

Set in 687 AD, Sword of Damascus takes place against the life or death struggle of the Byzantine Empire against the first and greatest expansion of Islam. Expelled, after nearly a thousand years, from Syria, Egypt and increasingly from North Africa, the formerly dominant power of the Mediterranean world has been pushed further and further back – even to the very walls of its capital, Constantinople.

Everyone knows that Europe owes two debts to Greece – for the victories at Marathon and Salamis that turned back the Persians. But who now remembers our third debt – to the supposedly decadent Byzantines? For they do save themselves from utter defeat, and they buy time for the rest of Europe. Almost at the last moment, they come up with Greek Fire, a mysterious liquid – or is it a gas? – that turns back the Islamic advance and restores Byzantine control of the seas.

Yes, without this “miracle weapon,” Constantinople would have fallen in the 7th century, rather than the 15th, and the new barbarian kingdoms of Europe would have gone down one by one before the unstoppable cry of Allah al akbar! But for Greek Fire, Edward Gibbon’s famous surmise would have become the truth:

“…the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet.”

But what importance has all this to old Aelric, who writes his memoirs and waits patiently for death in the remote wastes of northern England? Little does he expect a double siege of his monastery, a kidnapping, a near-fatal chase through the Mediterranean, and a confrontation at the end of this that will settle the future of mankind. Will age have robbed Aelric of his charm, his intelligence, his resourcefulness, or of his talent for cold and homicidal duplicity?

Comments on Richard Blake’s Earlier Novels
‘Vivid characters, devious plotting and buckets of gore are enhanced by his unfamiliar choice of period. Nasty, fun and educational.’ Daily Telegraph
‘He knows how to deliver a fast-paced story and his grasp of the period is impressively detailed’ Mail on Sunday
‘A rollicking and raunchy read . . . Anyone who enjoys their history with large dollops of action, sex, intrigue and, above all, fun will absolutely love this novel.’ Historical Novels Review
‘Fascinating to read, very well written, an intriguing plot and I enjoyed it very much.’ Derek Jacobi, star of I Claudius and Gladiator

Read Chapter One

For review copies, contact Eleni Lawrence at Hodder & Stoughton.

Richard Blake is available for interview.

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9 responses to “Another One from Mr Blake

  1. For some reason, this was saved as a draft and never published. Apologies to Mr Blake – but there’s plenty of time till Christmas.

  2. The mystery of Greek fire always reminds me of that old joke about how the Irish don’t eat toast because the one who knew the recipe died. I wonder what it really was? Of course, maybe the descriptions are exaggerated, which is why nobody can replicate it. But it does sound like it was a terrifying weapon.

    It is, however, also a reminder of why the Ancient (Eastern) World failed as a civilisation; one reason is that, contrary to some supporters’ declarations, they had no science. They had “natural philosophy” and some ingenious tinkering, but the did not have science. Thus, a discovery like Greek Fire stands on its own; an arbitrary discovery by some tinkering alchemist rather than part of a systemised knowledge… er… system.

    There is a common trope in modern fiction (especially movies) in which there is some super or terrible invention, and only one man knows the secret, and the heroes have to stop him (or save him) so that the invention can be destroyed (or brought to the world). The magic (and ultimately rather unncessary to the plot, when an ordinary nuke would have sufficed) nuclear reactor in the recent Batman movie is an example. You destroy one man’s mind, or even one floppy disk containing the recipe, and that’s it. But real science and technology isn’t like that. Being part of a body of knowledge, any such invention can be recreated by other technologists and scientists. Once one nation builds a nuclear bomb, others follow, regardless of whether they can steal the plans or not (although obviously that may speed up the process).

    So, Greek Fire; a great invention, but also testament to the failure of the “ancient” mind. As I’ve said before, the Byzantines are a rather tragic lot; they represent the Romans throwing away their European-ness and becoming Orientals, and in the process taking on all the failures of Oriental civilisational modes, especially the despotism and excessive mysticism. They stood against Islam, that is true. But one must also remember that had not that nasty usurper Constantine (the progenitor of the Byzantine era) adopted Christianity, there would have been no Islam to stand against. So, swings and roundabouts, really.

  3. Who’s this Blake chap?

  4. The slightly louche-looking character in the picture looks vaguely familiar – was he a friend of Jimmy Savile’s or something?

  5. Since they’ve never been seen together, Mr Blake might well be Jimmy Savile.

  6. Here’s a review of one he wrote earlier:

    Blake, Richard – ‘The Blood of Alexandria’
    Hardback: 512 pages (June 2010) Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton ISBN: 0340951168

    This is another fantastically crafted tale about the life of Aelric and Martin, his ever-faithful secretary. As with Blake’s previous books about this cheerful and resourceful character, THE BLOOD OF ALEXANDRIA is written as if it is a memoir: Aelric is in his old age, living in a monastery and reflecting back on his life when he was a young man. He starts off in life as a lowly clerk and, in this latest offering, has risen to the position of senator and been sent to Alexandria to oversee the transportation of the Egyptian harvest to Rome and also enforce changes to some laws regarding land ownership. None of this is particular popular with the locals and, before too long, a revolt is underway.

    Troubles seem to come in threes for our Aelric; as his sworn adversary, Priscus, suddenly arrives in town, seemingly obsessed with finding a previously unheard-of relic: the chamber pot of Christ. Aelric reluctantly agrees to help in the search and in the process uncovers information that puts his life in grave danger. Then Martin is kidnapped by the mob after a particularly nasty riot and, with the help of a mysterious sorceress, Aelric heads off into the unknown to rescue his friend.

    After a slow start that requires some effort to keep on reading, the tempo of the book rapidly picks up and you just can’t put it down. Blake’s detailed descriptions of life in ancient Egypt under Roman occupation bring the story and its characters to life and are, at times, beautifully gruesome – for example the rather horrendous method used to execute the perpetrators of the main uprising, by being impaled on large stakes and left to die slowly, leave you feeling as if you are standing in the crowd, watching.

    I love this book and am impatient to read Blake’s next instalment. At times things get so seemingly hopeless for Aelric that it is a comfort to know he is writing his memoirs and does indeed survive to tell the tale.

    Amanda C M Gillies, Scotland
    January 2011

  7. And here’s a nice review from the Slovak version of Pravda:

    Má zabezpečiť dodávku egyptského obilia do Konštantínopola a presadiť nový zákon o pôde.

    Richard Blake: Krv Alexandrie

    Autor: Slovart

    V meste mu na každom kroku hatia plány rozhádané vládne frakcie a sprisahanci.

    Do Alexandrie však mieri aj dávny Aelricov nepriateľ, ktorý údajne hľadá náboženskú relikviu s mocou zvrátiť priebeh perzskej vojny.

    A Aelric musí opäť využiť všetok dôvtip, šarm a strategický talent, aby prežil.