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3.7 out of 5 stars
The Sultan of Byzantium
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
(3.5 stars) In a novel which defies genre, a Turkish businessman/professor in his thirties is visited by a representative of a secret organization and told that he is the natural successor to Constantine XI, the Byzantine emperor who died in 1475. The organization, Nomophylax (Guardians of the Law), has been guarding Constantine XI's fortune for the more than five hundred years, and they have secretly kept the throne-in-exile alive and continuously occupied. Long fascinated by the history of the Byzantine Empire, which lasted for over eleven hundred years before being finally defeated by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the newly declared emperor-in-exile is anxious to investigate further, and it is these investigations which form the novel.

Telling his own story, he begins serious study at the Center for Research in Byzantine History at Chatham House in London, then goes to Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC, to study at their library in Byzantine Studies. His nearly full-time, world-wide travels then begin in earnest. He visits the crumbling remains of the Tekfur Palace in Istanbul, once occupied by Constantine XI, and it is at a meeting near that palace that he is given an unusual box. His mission is to find six tiles that fit into special slots in this box. Beginning his quest, he then visits, among other places, the Antioch Museum; then Athens, where he sees a statue of Constantine XI; and the Greek city of Mistra, near Sparta. Continuing on, he goes to Venice and Cappadocia in Italy, then to Nice, Seville, Lausanne, Hamburg, Nantes, and Liege. Eventually, he also visits Sao Paolo and Rhodes, always searching for the missing tiles.

This unusual novel refuses to be categorized. The story combines elements of a fantasy and a quest, providing a framework for the novel, but the fact that the speaker finds some of the tiles more by chance than through his own efforts suggests that the author has created this search primarily to allow the speaker to travel to well-described places important to Byzantine history, rather than to create and emphasize a clever plot. The speaker's travels do not involve hardship, financial or otherwise, and this is not a travel narrative in which a main character faces dangers on trips to exotic places around the globe. The emphasis on history slows down the narrative for those who are primarily interested in the quest and fantasy aspects of the novel, but will intrigue many readers unfamiliar with Byzantine history.

Though author Selcuk Altun includes numerous literary references throughout, it is clear that his primary purpose is to provide little known historical information to his readers within an unusual narrative. Detailed information about the order of the emperors and how they ascended to their thrones, the people they killed and maimed, and how they themselves died sometimes does make the novel sound like history book, but the author's sensuous descriptions are rich with details which help bring this history to life. With its panoramic view of Byzantine history and the empire's contributions throughout the world over the eleven hundred years of its existence, this unusual, non-traditional novel will intrigue many readers and may inspire some to continue their "travels" through Byzantium, in person or through additional reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 January 2013
What a treat by Selcuk Altun.

The last prospective emperor of Byzantium has to solve many puzzles and travel the seven seas before he can claim the throne and the fortune which is is birthright and he risks his life many times in the process.

Talk about serendipity. The Sultan of Byzantium is a treasure hunt in which the reader also finds many treasures while the protagonist goes ahead with his quest. There are many leads in the book to follow up by the curious reader which makes the book a must read for anyone who has had a brush with Turkey, Istanbul and the history of the region.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 March 2015
A slightly strange book, which will appeal to lovers of Byzantine history and culture for its beautiful descriptions, even though as a story it barely holds together.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 April 2014
The writer embellishes his story with historical tid bits in the manner of Dan Brown. Found it hard to put down.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
And this is one of them. The blurb on the back cover suggests a potentially interesting thriller, but it really isn't a thriller at all, or a crime novel (I gather Altun's past novels have been and have an international reputation), or historic fiction, or a love story, although its got all of that in it. The protagonist, a Turk, is told by three mysterious guys that he is really the descendent of the last Byzantine emperor, but he has to prove it in a rather odd way that involves a lot of travelling. Altun does in fact spend considerable time painting interesting word pictures of Istanbul, London, Stockholm and a host of other places. He also heavily peppers the pages with snippets of imperial Byzantine history, so at times the novel feels more like fictional travel literature along the line's of Jan Morris' novel HAV. But I think Altun writes very sympathetically about the Byzantine churches, ruins and culture he describes, and there is a lyrical quality to the book, which may be due in part to the skill of the translaters. The book won't keep you on the edge of your seat, but it will give you plenty of pleasant images of the Turks and the Byzantines in their corner of the Mediterranean.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 April 2014
This booked looked really interesting on the shelf and concerns an area about which I have read quite a bit (Byzantium). The shame is it falls far short of its promise - let alone of the publicity and the reviews above. The edition that I read (paperback 2013) needed corrections both of English and of fact.

According to newpages (quoted above) "Sultan is first and most definitely a carefully executed mystery..." There really isn't a mystery and what there is is rapidly resolved. The rest is just travelogue, in places factually incorrect.

The story isn't particularly intricate, well-developed or well-written and has many pointless digressions and suffers from mediocre and improbable characterisation of its central character. The story could have been much more economically written. The "love story" is a digression adding little to the main narrative and the book would be much tighter without it. The whole reads in part as if the author had intended to write a longer book and had decided to stop for some reason and that what we are presented with has been "rescued".

For an exposition of the history of Byzantium (which rewards reading) there are much better sources. Where the book does succeed for a western audience is the Byzantine and Turkish perspective that it offers on events in our shared history.

I had heard great things of Altun, this book didn't deliver.A disappointment. Not recommended.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 2 February 2013
Excellent and fascinating book. Very enlightening on istanbul and its history-far better then the Da Vinci Code
and others of that ilk.
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