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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 May 2013
There is something fascinating about the fortune of western Europe during those years of mystery that lay between the Roman and Carolingian empires. Centuries of decline and decay, caused and aggravated by abandonment by the Roman authorities, now based in Constantinople, and attack by the northern tribes. Arguably, the one hope for those living amongst the ruins lay in the new Christian order which flourished in the West, just as it did in the East. Unfortunately, with the bishops not able to agree about even the nature of Christ, union seemed impossible and even undesirable.

It's in this 7th-century world that we meet Aelric - senator and advisor to the emperor in Constantinople, troubleshooter and troublemaker, handy with fist and pen, with one eye open for attractive female company and the other for enlightening literary or theological texts. Having failed to keep the peace in Alexandria, Aelric is sent with Priscus, a deeply unsavoury general, to Athens. They are there to be either executed (or at least have their eyes burnt out) for having failed their master or to rule over an unhappy meeting of bishops and prelates designed to bring the western and eastern churches together. The fact that the novel is over 400 pages long indicates the latter.

The historical setting of The Ghosts of Athens is superb. The descriptions of Athens are compelling. The remains of the glory days can still be seen, admired and visited while the decayed city streets are filled with an ugly, diseased and impoverished population, as far removed as is possible to be from those famously godlike Athenians of antiquity. You can almost taste the rot. This is compounded by a description of a garden frog stew that put me off food for a week. And when a headless corpse turns up, pulled out from under an ancient tomb, and is subjected to the kind of treatment that only the despicable Priscus could summon up, I was reaching for a bucket.

There is an issue, though. This extraordinary historical colour is let down by a rambling and incoherent story that loses direction and point at every turn. Aelric has similar colour and is entertaining and shocking in equal measure. But he is not enough. The other characters came across to me as either cartoon grotesques or cardboard cutouts. Nobody seemed `normal'. The story could have been about the murder, it could have been about religious argument and debate, it could have been about a city on the point of violent collapse. I didn't really know. It was a bit of all of these with Aelric's own private agendas added in. Also, the early chapters are set at a future date in a fantastically-realised decrepit London but there was little to join it with the bulk of the novel.

The first third is excellent and pulled me in. The remaining two thirds did their best to spit me out. It is a shame because Rome's death throes provide such a setting and Blake clearly enjoyed putting them to paper. The beginning is so much fun to read. However, a novel needs to give more to its reader, at least this reader.

The Ghosts of Athens is the fifth book in a series and it's possible that if I had read the others I might have enjoyed it more. It's unlikely, though, that I'll read the next. This is a 2.5 star book. I'm grateful for the review copy.
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on 30 July 2015
Loved it, a combination of intrigued, political backstabbing, that you might expect from the vast Roman court. The threat of barbarian attacks all intermingled with some grisly murder and local superstition.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 May 2013

I have I believe been fortunate to read all of Richard Blake's novels, since the release of The Column of Phocas, later re-released as Conspiracies of Rome in 2008.

Every novel has been a delight for a reader of Historical fiction and also those who love conspiracies with twists and turns and deep intrigue. I wont say that you come to love the hero of this series Aleric, but you learn to follow him and his adventures and his growth through the roman world.

The Author Richard Blake (AKA Sean Gabb) is a Historian, his depth of knowledge come across clearly in the books, his attention to detail is to a level that breathes life into the Roman world (for some it may seem too much, but stick with it, this sin some dusty history lesson, this is history come to life).

Our Hero (Aleric) is a complex man, part cultured Roman, part ass kicking semi sociopathic barbarian, just as capable of delivering a fine oration as he is of stabbing you in the groin and watching you bleed out. There is however no gratuitous violence, only the violence that fits the plot and the period, this is not the PC modern world. A man lived by his wits, brains, skill with weapons and reputation, as well as his perceived station on the Roman world.

This is not the world of Caesar, this is the decline of the Empire, Just as Rome descended into a mire of corruption and ineffective aloof leaders who cared nothing for the commons, the east , the last bastion of the roman world is heading the same way, the chaos and confusion of Byzantine politics abounds, corruption is the watchword of politics. Add in religion and you have an explosive world teetering on the edge of collapse.

Aleric fresh from a bloodbath in Egypt has a reputation to salve, many blaming him for the bloodbath, find himself diverted to Athens, no reasons are not shared with him and the City of Athens is not the glorious capital of antiquity, now a provincial city under threat from a rabble that only size can call an army. Its not a situation that any would relish lacking a true order from his emperor he doesn't even know if he is on a true mission or being set up by his rivals / enemies.

Can he survive this latest mission?

Buy the book at less than £6.50 it's a bargain for all contained in the pages

Highly Recommended

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on 10 April 2016
The Ghosts of Athens is set in the Roman Empire in the Age of the Barbarian invasions. The story is told by an Englishman, Aelric. Young, blond, tall and handsome, he is well read and a statesman of some genius. He is completely absorbed into the customs and culture of this decaying, multi-cultural empire. I love the touches about depilation and ginger cordial in among his examination of a headless corpse, his detective abilities and his masterful handling of a querulous council of bishops, all glaring daggers at each other while they deliver their personal version of the nature of Jesus. Maybe bringing them to agreement is the hardest part of Aelric’s mission. But his diplomatic skills are on a par with his political acumen and his tactical instincts. Among all the mysteries and dangers – a barbarian horde surrounds the city even as the bishops still argue – we get a wonderfully atmospheric tour of Athens a thousand years after its days of glory. The damp, the decay, the sad remnants of decoration, are totally convincing. Aelric has the main palace cleaned up and another splendid comic touch is when he lets the great chief of the barbarians try the latrines. There is plenty of violence and gore, a mad wizard, and overshadowing the whole story, the need for Aelric to succeed, in order to satisfy the Emperor in Constantinople, who sent him on this mission. The twists of the plot make it a gripping read and fun as well. I’m hooked on the series now.
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on 20 December 2014
I bought this book specifically to take on a holiday to Athens. I found the descriptions of the parts of the city very interesting as my reading coincided with me visiting them. The story was good enough to keep me reading to the end if a bit gruesome in parts (put me off eating frogs for life) although I wouldn't go out of my way to read anything else in the series.
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on 25 July 2012
The complex beauty of Richard Blake's writing is the fine line the author treads between classicism and barbarism. On the one hand, our hero Aelric demurs with his eyebrow at former students for using impersonal Latin verbs in a personal way, and on the other hand, he stabs crass lumpen Anglo-Saxon peasants in the eye with rusting six-inch knives for daring to deliver him a discourtesy. It's all done in the best possible taste, of course, in a cornucopia of smells, tastes, sounds, and verbal effluence which delights both the cerebrum's lobus frontalis and the brain stem's medulla oblongata, and all ambrosic points in-between. This blends in well with the world that Aelric finds himself belched into, which teeters between the differing Roman empires of Caesar and Charlemagne. Our hero drowns in a Varangian smorgasbord of complex Byzantine politics blended into the universal and basal political corruption clearly visible around us currently, in our failed centrally-planned world, in which paper-money currencies, socially-desirable orthodoxies, and politically-correct holy cows are crashing down in a manner highly reminiscent of the enslaving inflationary mess that the original Roman Empire descended into, in its final spasmodic death throes. This is perhaps best summed up by my favourite line in 'Ghosts of Athens': "I'll grant you that it's hard, in most settled places, to tell the difference between tax-collectors and bandits." On a less intellectual level, 'Ghosts of Athens' is simply a superb yarn of an irascible intelligent man dealing with a blindingly confused world, similar but different to the yarns of Cornwell's Lieutenant Sharpe, O'Brian's Captain Maturin, or even Pratchett's Wizzard Rincewind, the egregious professor of cruel and unusual geography. Aelric is an egregious professor of the cruel and unusual human soul, and I highly recommend the contemplation of his latest inexcusable adventure in 'Ghosts of Athens'.
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on 12 January 2013
This book is very good. Well written, good plot,great fun to read! My only criticism is the lack of paragraph/in-chapter dividers. In a genuine paper book, you would have an asterisk or a symbol to indicate that the scene has changed. As this is an electronic version, you have to guess. Pedantic, yes but nonetheless annoying. Other than that, enjoy!
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on 3 May 2013
Ghosts of Athens
seeing the title I was reminded of the Plinian ghost story of Athenodorus and expected more of the same- a whodunnit along the lines of steven saylor complete with moaning rattling chains and " dig here" ending revealing not a skeleton but a fresh corpse of a bearded foreign agent that we all knew as Silas the Innkeepers Daughter but was pleased it was not and this is down to Blakes specific talent as a storyteller
but for me the city of Athens is the most terrifying ghost
for horror more shades of Ingoldsby than of Stephen king the ghosts of Athens is a the latest in the Alaric series and a delight compared to the heavy Sword of Damascus
Although a couple of chapters are more in tone of scooby doo the overall story is filled with bones and substance
without giving away plot or ending I think it is the best of the Alaric books but had a feeling that old Alaric was (and this may be true of all the books) Old Uncle Toby telling us a Shandy shaggy Dog story
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on 21 July 2012
Sadly the writer seems to gave lost his way with these books. The genre and history are very interesting, but sadly nothing new has been introduced to the tales. I dont want a critique of monotheism when i am reading. Aleric is a good character and deserves better.
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To be honest I picked this title and expected something completely to what was present. What this story offers the reader is a tale that takes the reader through a journey of warfare, intrigue, politics and of course survivability in a world where there's a dagger at everyone's back with no telling when it might suddenly be thrust forward. The prose is reasonable, the characters solid but sadly one of my bugbears raises it head as the principle character is never in any real danger as the story is told by him in his elderly age.

That for me eliminates a huge part of the thrill of an adventure with so many perils and as such left me feeling cheated. All in it is a reasonable offering but had it been told from the time it was happening rather than looked at from the future, it would have added a better twist to keep the adrenaline flowing.
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