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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Really enjoyed the plots going on. Can't wait for the next edition.. could not put it down. keep up the good work.
Colin
Published 4 months ago by Colin R Burrell

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't quite work for me...
I hate to "spoil the party" but, unlike the other reviews, this one will not be entirely favourable. This is because I had problems with the way the author presented the historical context, with the plot and with some of the characters in this novel.

To start with the positive elements, the topic is somewhat original. There are already a number of...
Published 1 month ago by JPS


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 27 Nov 2013
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Really enjoyed the plots going on. Can't wait for the next edition.. could not put it down. keep up the good work.
Colin
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical adventure at its best, 27 Sep 2013
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The Walls of Byzantium is an epic novel, the first of a new series, set at the end of the fourteenth century and mapping the decline and fall of the Byzantine Empire. I don't know much about the period, but I was relieved to find that everything I need to know to grasp what's going on is provided in the text. There's an easy to read map at the start of the books but we are spared a glossary or distracting notes. James Heneage is a first class storyteller and he sweeps you along from page one, quietly adding to the reader's knowledge only when necessary.

I found this a hugely enjoyable novel set in a fascinating period. The plague had swept through Europe in the mid-fourteenth century wiping out a third of the population and ushered in a new age of fervent religious belief. Life expectancy was short and many of the new rulers and commanders were young, hot headed and spoiling for a fight. The aggressive empires of the East were approaching their zenith: the Ottomans and the Mongols were eager to sweep westwards and had the numbers and capability to overwhelm Europe and stop the flowering of the Renaissance in its tracks. The answer to why this didn't happen and how European civilization survived is the underlying theme of the novel.

The fate of all of the empires, both East and West, is told through the interconnecting lives of four main characters: Luke Magoris, a medieval horse whisperer whose growth and development seems to embody the glimmering light of the Renaissance; Anna Laskaris whose high birth finds her trapped in a nasty political marriage; Prince Suleyman, heir to the Sultanate and the novel's prime villain; and Zoe Mamonas, a schemer of Borgia-like proportions who remains engaging and sympathetic throughout. There are some memorable secondary characters, notably the philosopher Plethon who lights up the page and deserves a novel of his own.

The book is full of good things and can be read and enjoyed on many different levels. It opens as a bloody adventure, but soon pans out to map decline of the last vestiges of the Roman empire from a number of perspectives. Heneage is clearly a skilled historian who knows the period in depth and the book is packed with fascinating insights into the period from the effect of the Sultan's toothache on an Ottoman invasion of Europe to how the Venetians became powerbrokers and arms dealers.

The landscapes of the Mediterranean are richly evoked and lovingly described; reading about Mistra, Monemvasia and Chios has made me yearn to visit them someday. The flowers of Byzantine and Islamic culture existed side by side with utterly sadistic and barbarous behaviour. The Crusaders are shown to behave worse than the Ottomans in their treatment of the conquered and as much as the twentieth century this period is shown to be an age of extremes.

The story works well on a mythic dimension and it's clear from reading Heneage's descriptions of the sieges of Monemvasia and Constantinople that this must have been Tolkien's inspiration for the siege of Minas Tirith in Lord of the Rings. The narrative sweeps to a gripping finale: Heneage is in his element during the battle scenes and his the portrayal of the Battle of Nicopolis, is outstanding and astonishing, encompassing acute historical understanding with a narrative sweep of Tolstoyan grandeur.

Heneage knows how to please his readers, both those who know their history and those who don't. It will equally delight readers of Tom Holt and Bernard Cornwell and viewers of Game of Thrones and The Borgias. This is a big book full of unexpected delights and it's easy to be totally drawn into this world. Reading it has changed my perspective on the Dark Ages and I have begun to wonder if we have ever really come out of them. This is historical writing at its best created by a master storyteller who is also a wonderful and engaging historian. I can't wait for more.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Walls of Byzantium review, 18 July 2013
Absoloutely incredible! I thoroughly enjoyed The Walls Of Byzantium and couldnt put it down until i'd finished. The best historical fiction i have read in a long time. Not only does Heneage bring the fascinating history of the ottoman empire to life with very likeable characters, but there is also a gripping romance throughout. I am 18 years old so i would definately recommend it to younger readers as well as old, and you do not necessarily have to be fascinated in history to enjoy it as the book is not too history-dense, but a good balance of fiction and non-fiction. The book definately appeals to all ages above 16, women and men. And 4 more books to come which i am super excited about!
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2.0 out of 5 stars too long, too slow, 27 Mar 2014
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At 20% on my kindle I wanted to give this book up but reread the other reviews and thought I was wrong and kept going to 45% (about 260 pages in a book) and finally gave up. I must admit all of the Greek and Turkish names etc didnot help but basically I thought this was a book intended for teenagers with a bit of sex thrown in to give the impression it was for adults. I wanted to read a book about Constantinople as I like history fiction but will stay with Bernard Cornwell, Rory Clements and Giles Kristian whose books I cannot get enough of - just to mention a few..
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5.0 out of 5 stars what a book, 22 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Walls of Byzantium (The Mistra Chronicles) (Kindle Edition)
This is one of the finest books I have read for a long time. I plan to re read it very soon as the details were so fascinating I don't believe I absorbed them all fully. I also can't wait to read the sequel. I would recommend this to anyone interested in the history of the 1300's and the way it shaped so much of later events. I can't wait to read thesequl, I'm writing it twice I know but that is how I feel.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable historical fiction., 19 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Walls of Byzantium (The Mistra Chronicles) (Kindle Edition)
If you want action, adventure and history then The Walls of Byzantium is a book I would recommend for you. It moved along nicely and the characters become almost like friends near the end. You will find yourself caught up not only in the adventure but also in the historical fact as well. looking forward to reading the second instalment.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read, 5 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Walls of Byzantium (The Mistra Chronicles) (Kindle Edition)
To begin with I found the historical references annoying and thought I would not read this book, but underneath is a very good story. Even if historical books are not your thing, this is worth a read -a very good story is told here.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't quite work for me..., 19 Feb 2014
By 
JPS - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Walls of Byzantium (The Mistra Chronicles) (Kindle Edition)
I hate to "spoil the party" but, unlike the other reviews, this one will not be entirely favourable. This is because I had problems with the way the author presented the historical context, with the plot and with some of the characters in this novel.

To start with the positive elements, the topic is somewhat original. There are already a number of novels on the final siege and fall of Constantinople. However, this seems to be the first series covering the last years of the 14th and first years of the 15th century, or at least the first one that I have come across. The Crusade that was destroyed by the Turks at the battle of Nicopolis (in 1396) and the crushing defeat of the same Ottomans at the hand of Tamerlane (Ankara in 1402) essentially offered the moribund Byzantine Empire a lease of another half century, especially since the Ottoman Empire was raked by civil war after the disaster of Ankara.

This book focuses on the declining Byzantine Empire which was a shadow of its former self. The term "Empire" had largely become a misnomer for what had become a state paying tribute to the expanding Ottomans. This "decline and fall" from former splendour and glory is something that the author shows rather well, with the Emperor and the scattered remains of the Empire, including the Despotate of Mistra, remaining precariously autonomous.
In his historical note, the author explains that Sultan Bayezid "had to conquer the Byzantine Empire and, in particular, the city of Constantinople" allegedly because "the Gates of Byzantium were the Gates into Europe." This rather lyrical presentation does not, unfortunately, present the real reasons for taking control of Constantinople. First of all, by the time of the battle of Nicopolis, the Ottomans had been in Europe for almost half a century during which they had conquered most of actual Bulgaria, Northern Greece and modern Macedonia and Serbia. None of these conquests had been easy. Some were very recent and the result of the battle of Kossovo (1389) and many of the new vassals were restless. The point here is that the Ottomans hold on the Balkans was relatively recent and much more precarious than the book makes it out to be. A similar comment can be made for their hold on Asia Minor, where a similar situation prevailed and where the subjection of other powerful Turcoman tribes and warlords was either recent or incomplete (as shown in the book).

Second, the Ottoman Sultanate straddled the Balkans and Asia Minor, and had been expanding towards both the west AND the east, something that is also shown rather well in the book when the various Ottoman commanders and Princes enter into disputes about strategy. This, by the way, was the same kind of typical dilemma that the Eastern Roman Empire and then the Byzantine Empire had been confronted with: the need to decide on which front they were going to fight, since they could not campaign on both fronts simultaneously. Control of Constantinople would ease communications between the two halves of the growing Ottoman Empire, so that the city was perhaps the "Gates of Europe" but it was also "the Gates to Asia Minor". Moreover, it was held by a Christian State that had formerly ruled over all of the territories currently under Ottoman control, was the successor of the Roman Empire and which could hope to obtain the military and religious help of Christian States, possibly even massive help through a Crusade.

Third, Christian help could come both by land, as happened with the Crusading forces that were crushed at Nicopolis, but also by sea, and this is where control of seaports in general (including Momemvasia) and of Constantinople in particular, could become important. Ottoman dominance was also threatened by the string of victories of Timur Leng (whom we know as Tamerlane) and the destabilising potential that this could have on the Ottoman vassals in Asia Minor.

The author also mentions four Empires - Byzantine, Venetian, Ottoman and "Mongol" (more accurately the Turco-Mongol Empire of Tamerlane). Apart from the fact that there were a number of other rather significant players (the Kingdom of Hungary and the Golden Horde on the Ukrainian steppes, for instance), neither the Byzantines nor the Venetians could even hope to match the Ottomans on their own. The former were rather well aware of it after being beaten just about each time they had tried to face the Ottomans in the field from the beginning of the 1'th century onwards (and with the exception of the Catalan Company episode). The later were more concerned with their secular rivalry against Genoa, where they were gaining the upper hand, and tended to believe, in a perhaps rather delusional way, that they could strike mutually beneficial deals with the Ottomans. So, in reality, there were only two empires that really mattered, not four.

Then there are some issues with the plot and the characters. The story begins in 1204 with a handful of Varangian Guards, including their leader, being tasked by the last Emperor of Constantinople with a crucial and very secret mission of preserving some precious item and hiding it overseas for future use. Needless to say, this item, which you never get to know about, can change the world. Almost two centuries later, their four descendants (and their four sons) are still styling themselves as Varangians and living in Momemvasia (why they are living in Momemvasia and serving its lord and not in Mistra, the capital of the Despotate is not explained). It is rather difficult to believe that these "Varangian traditions" (which are also left unexplained) would have been kept intact for so long, to put it mildly. This is especially the case since the Varangian Guards in Constantinople are only mentioned a handful of times during the 14th century and seem to have been replaced by other newly formed Guard units, especially from the mid-fourteenth century onwards.

One of these four sons - Luke Magoris (who seems to bear Greek names and neither Anglo-Saxon nor Scandinavian names, despite his alleged heritage) - is our hero, but a somewhat ineffective and feeble one with whom I did not manage to empathise. He keeps getting captured (three times) and bashed about every time he sets of to do something. He also keeps getting used and manipulated by others, both "goodies" and "baddies" alike. Then there are two noble born young Byzantine ladies. One is Anna Lascaris, the last descendant of an old Byzantine family and the relatively strong-willed sweetheart of our feeble hero. The second is Zoe Mamonas, the daughter of the scheming lord of Monemvasia, who is just as scheming as her father, at least as intelligent and deceptive as he is, but can never hope to be his heir and inherit from him because she is a girl. Finally, there is the historical character of Prince Sulayman, Sultan Bayezit's eldest son, who is cast as the arch-villain of the novel in a way that makes him into a bit of a caricature, at times.

Some of the secondary characters are perhaps more interesting, especially the historical ones, such as Plethon, a philosopher who is here also a diplomat and something of a (not so) secret agent.

I was not very much impressed by the "Holy Quest" piece whereby our hero seeks to find the mysterious and very secret treasure that everyone - starting with the Ottomans and the Venetians - seems to have heard about. However, the descriptions of "colonial" Genoese rule and economic exploitation of Chios and their trade in mastic and alum were rather interesting.

Perhaps the best part of the book was the section dealing with the battle of Nicopolis, which is reconstructing faithfully from the sources, apart, perhaps, from the vexed question of numbers of both sides where the accounts somewhat conflict. Heneage clearly shows that the behaviour of the Franco-Burgundians with regards to what we would now call "civilians" was rather appalling, just like it had been during previous Crusades (starting with the First one) with a level of arrogance that bordered stupidity. He also shows to what extent they lost the battle, as opposed to the Ottomans winning it. Despite not waiting for the Hungarians to engage the enemy and falling into just about all the traps that the Turks had laid out for them, the casualties that they inflicted on the Ottomans were nevertheless grievous. Further casualties were inflicted on them when they attacked the Hungarians who fought desperately and held out as long as they could on their own. So while the battle was indeed a huge and utterly avoidable disaster for the Christians, it also resulted in large and often unmentioned losses for the Ottomans, with these losses largely explaining why they decided not to resume the siege of Constantinople afterwards.

Three stars.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An auspicious debut, 5 Aug 2013
By 
George Walkley (Salisbury and London) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Walls of Byzantium (The Mistra Chronicles) (Kindle Edition)
This ticked all the boxes for a summer read: evocative writing; a historical setting full of tension, incident and character; carefully drawn protagonists with credible motivations - all deeply impressive in any novel, let alone a debut. It also passed one of the great tests of any historical fiction in that it sent me straight to the best non-fiction on the Ottoman, Byzantine and Venetian empires to learn more about the period. Very much to be recommended.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing debut, eagerly awaiting part 2, 4 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Walls of Byzantium (The Mistra Chronicles) (Kindle Edition)
An engrossing, amazingly well researched tale, which hardly give the reader time to breath.
The author can certainly weave a tale of so many twists turns and unexpected surprises. Five stars!
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