I may be at a disadvantage with this dark, complex and involved epic historical thriller from Richard Blake in that it is the fifth in a series and I have leapt in at the end. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I fear I have missed a number of nuances of character relationships that have built up in previous books (relationships between characters and also between characters and the reader.)
That being said, I reiterate how much I enjoyed it. I have four points I noted as I read through it which are the bones of my review:
1. Setting. The world of the early 7th century is almost totally alien to me, being the weirdest, bleak yet rich juxtaposition of the semi-barbaric dark ages spotted with the mix of Christianity and old world values against the dying light that was Rome and has yet to fully blossom (in my humble opinion) into the grand Byzantine world. It is a strange heady brew and provides fresh and fascinating settings to me. It is a world of constant surprises.
2. Writing style. I am often troubled when faced with HistFic in the first person. If it is done well it can convey a level of depth and emotion that is impossible with third person. If it is not it can make a story over-laboured for me and too much hard work to be worth it. This novel came down on the side of the former and while I have read better first-person viewpoints, particularly given the switching between multi-first-person view, it was enhanced by the author’s clear skill with language and his smooth, atmospheric descriptive. The result was a highly intoxicating read.
3. Detail. Blake is clearly a serious expert in his chosen field and era and it shows through in the detail and background of his story. Every tiniest detail has the feel of being well-researched and slotted in with care and attention, and it has created a book that informs as it entertains. I learned some fascinating things.
4. Plot. This story has everything from the casual violence of the Roman military novel to the dark shadowy world of the modern political thriller to the overhanging threat of a siege tale to the creepy otherworldliness of a supernatural thriller to the personal relations of a classic historical epic. And all set within this fascinating time.
Ghosts of Athens feels like a labour of love by an expert with a passion for his subject.
My only regret is not having begun with book 1. The first four are now in my pile for the future.