The fourth book in Richard Blake's brilliant series featuring Aelric, the six-century English adventurer, combines an expert's knowledge of the Roman world with intrigue, sex, black comedy and extreme violence.
687 AD. Expansive and triumphant, the Caliphate has stripped Egypt and Syria from the Byzantine Empire. Farther and farther back, the formerly hegemonic Empire has been pushed - once to the very walls of its capital, Constantinople.
All that has saved it from destruction is the invention of Greek Fire. Is it a liquid? Is it a gas? Is it a gift from God or the Devil? Or is it a recipe found in an ancient tomb? Few know the answer. But all know how it has broken the Islamic advance and restored 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 what importance has all this to old Aelric, now in his nineties, and a refugee from the Empire he's spent his life holding together? No longer the Lord Senator Alaric, Brother Aelric is writing his memoirs in the remote wastes of northern England, and waiting patiently for death. For company, he has his student, Wilfred, sickly through bright, and Brother Joseph, another refugee from the Empire. Or there's ghastly Brother Cuthbert to despise - or to envy for his possession of pretty young Edward.
Then a band of northern barbarians turns up outside the monastery - and then another. Almost before he can draw breath, Aelric is a prisoner and, with Edward, headed straight back into the snake pit of Mediterranean rivalries.
Who has snatched Aelric out of retirement, and why? What is the nature of Edward's fascination with a man more than eighty years his senior? How, together, will they handle the confrontation that lies at the end of their journey - a confrontation 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?