Constantinople in 610 AD, three hundred years after Constantine the Great took the small fishing village of Byzantium and made it the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire; the city where Europe meets Asia; the City of Man's Desire, where anything can be bought for the right price. But is the City of Gold a city of dreams or nightmares?
"Terror of Constantinople" marks the second outing for Aelric, a young Saxon nobleman transplanted to early seventh century Rome from England. Initially sent on a mission with his mentor, the priest Maximin, to collect books for the Roman Church in Britain, clever, cynical Aelric has proven a useful tool for the venal, power-hungry clerics of the Church in Rome, and is not planning on returning to his bleak, benighted homeland anytime soon.
His previous assignment as investigator and hatchet man for the Dispensator of the Church of Rome successfully completed, Aelric looks forward to settling into his nice new home in one of the few remaining suburbs of Rome still in working order. He's coining it on the trading market, collecting books by the dozen for his library, and about to marry his pretty, ditzy mistress and become a father. Life looks good.
However the Dispensator hasn't finished with Aelric yet, and blackmails him into accepting a new assignment, this time in Constantinople. Aelric soon finds that beneath its sophisticated veneer the city is suffocating in fear, controlled by a terrifying secret service which scoops up people at random on charges of treachery, sending them to torture and death in the cells beneath the sinister Ministry. Agents provocateur infiltrate all levels of society and citizens are encouraged to denounce each other at will. Wives tired of their husbands, sons wanting their inheritances in a hurry, business rivals, and envious neighbours all find a ready ear in the Ministry's Black Agents. Divide and rule is the policy of Emperor Phocas, a paranoid megalomanic under threat of losing his position and his head to the next claimant to the throne. Danger lurks at every turn. Despite his overweening confidence in his own golden good looks, charm and intelligence, Aelric has to admit that even he might have stepped over his head into a cesspit this time. Will quick wits, a sexy smile and a sword be enough to save him?Conspiracies of Rome
was one of my historical fiction finds of 2008, and "Terror of Constantinople" is another winner. Blake's erudition and political savvy create a convincing framework for an irreverent, bawdy historical thriller, written with élan and full of non-stop action, intrigue and suspense. The period is unusual and fascinating, as Blake himself says, "just at the transition between late antiquity and the mediaeval period," and Aelric makes a compelling protagonist. He's conceited, ruthless, amoral and hedonistic. He also has a contagious zest for life, a passion for knowledge, and a distaste for narrow-minded religious dogmatism. He's generous and protective of his motley mix of retainers as befits a Saxon lord, and has the Saxon warrior's boundless capacity for alcohol, love of a good, brutal fight and zeal for blood-feud if he or his are injured in any way; a complex and contradictory character who always leaves the reader guessing.
Bring on "The Blood of Alexandria"!