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4.7 out of 5 stars67
4.7 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 July 2014
This is the last book of « the Haga’s » trilogy, and for me at least, it was the best of the three.

The main reason for this is the author’s remarkable treatment of the battle of Mantzikert, with the whole novel, and the whole trilogy to a lesser extent, being built around this climatic event. The author has taken great care to show that the Byzantine defeat did NOT entail the total destruction of their army. Moreover, he clearly shows that the battle was far from being entirely one-sided and that the Seljuks suffered heavy losses before they managed to destroy the center of the Byzantine first line.

As shown in the book, however, both wings (although with heavy losses) and the entire second line managed to escape. What made this battle into a disaster was the capture of the Emperor, largely through the treason of Andronikos Doukas who could have saved the day had he come to the help of the beleaguered Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes. Instead, he retreated back to Constantinople and supported his father’s coup, ushering in a civil war (the first of several over the next decade) which must have been even more damageable than Mantzikert itself, as the author also mentions in his historical note.

Also mostly well told and closely following the historical sources are the narratives for the two years preceding 1071, with these events, and the lack of any clear victory, building pressure on the Emperor Romanos and making him increasingly desperate to secure such a victory in order to shore up his legitimacy.

This is where I had a bit of a problem with the author’s choice to ascribe to treachery just about everything that went wrong on the Byzantine side both during the Mantzikert campaign and before. While this is of course part of the author’s license, there was so much of it (all invented, except for Andronikos Doukas’ role on the battlefield) that it became a bit incredible at times.

It also affected the credibility of some of the characters to some extent, with the ultra-evil Psellos appearing as all powerful while the Emperor seems at times to be a well-intentioned but a rather hopeless character, and the Haga as some kind of “Deus ex machina” who arrives at the last possible moment and saves the situation, at least until the next time. A related consequence of this kind of exaggeration, which was also apparent in the previous volume, is that you cannot help wondering why the Emperor (and Appion to a lesser extent) did not take more extreme measures to ensure their back if Psellos was really so dangerous and powerful. All in all, the consequence of making Psellos into the arch-traitor is to make Romanos seem overconfident, naïve, weak and indecisive.

In a few cases, however, the author’s license may have done the book a bit of a disservice. It is, for instance, quite incredible that Andronikos Doukas made the whole way from Constantinople to the battlefield being in chains all the time. In fact, and contrary to what is shown in the book, he was explicitly put in command of the reserve that formed up the Byzantine second line during the battle and this line was not made up only of the troops of the magnates. The second line included some of the Empire’s crack cavalry troops such as the Hetairia. These are not included in the author’s list of Tagmata. The Excubitores are also omitted from the list, by the way, and it very unlikely that the numbers of each regiment were identical.

Two other cases are worth mentioning. One is about the difficulties to ensure the feeding of the vast army (for the time) that Romanos had managed to gather. These are partly ascribed to sabotage and treason although such a feature is not really necessary to explain how difficult it could be to feed and water 40000 troops and tens of thousands of horses, mules and oxes in Spring and Summer during their long march across arid Anatolia.

Another is about the alleged treachery of Tarchaniotes who retreated back to Melitene with part of the army (probable less than half of the initial 40000, although it included the Normans under Roussel de Bailleuil) instead of uniting with the Emperor at Mantzikert. A more simple explanation is that he and his battle corps were simply cut off from the main force, did not know its whereabouts, were unable to make contact with them and were being constantly harassed by Turkish horse archers. Given that logistics were the initial reason for splitting up the army (as mentioned in the book), and that the provinces were left wide open to attack should the Turcoman horse archers manage to get behind the heavier Byzantine corps, a case for the retreat can be made without necessarily ascribing this to treason.

Finally, there is the aftermath of the battle. While the dialogues between the Sultan and the captured Emperor is fictitious of course (including the ones that are included in the historical sources), their substance is either likely or confirmed by sources. In particular, Alp Arslan did release Romanos and was not really interested in conquering Anatolia for himself. He was more interested in securing bases from which he could protect his own frontiers from Byzantium (hence the whole campaign over Mantzikert and Khliat which were essentially gateways) and in fighting the “heretic” Fatimids.

The story of the Haga itself is, as another reviewer mentioned, rather sad. Given the historical context however, the lack of a “happy ending” does not really surprise. Even there, the author manages to “stick” to the historical record as much as possible (and to the extent that there is one) by showing that although much of Anatolia was occupied by various Turkish chieftains and their war bands, most of Charsianon was not and it remained in Byzantine hands for close to four hundred years. Four stars.
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on 17 July 2014
A well paced story with a good measure of historic fact, all be it used with a little artistic license on occasion.(Thats what keeps you interested) although the historical detail and geography are astoundingly accurate the research has certainly been extensive, A very good finale to what for me has been an amazing trilogy,
not many books keep me awake at night knowing I have to get up in the morning for a 12 hour shift, The plot comes from several directions and converges beautifully keeping you page turning well into the night capped with what can be a happy ending(of sorts) I loved this series and look forward to the next instalment of Legionary (Mr Doherty's other series)
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on 3 August 2014
The latest, and concluding chapter in the Strategos series is in my opinion, the author's finest book to date. Here's why:

Plot/Storyline - an intricate yet seamless blend of fact and fiction that covers the conflict between two great empires and their power struggles from within. Written from varying POV's., it offers a balanced view of the world during those dangerous times.

Writing style - The language is varied, yet understated, the writing mature and immersive. you can almost smell the wood-smoke, hear the clash of battle, taste the desert sands. This is a major strength of the author - He shows rather than tells the story and understands how to really connect with his reader.

Characters - With skillful use of POV, the author offers insight into the hopes and aspirations of his central characters. His protagonists/antagonists have depth and feelings - they become real, and as a reader I began to empathise with them.
For me, a story is only as good as its characters and those in 'Strategos' are as good as they get.

Editing - Extremely well edited with no smelling pistakes that I could spot. also had some nice additional information - Maps, glossary of terms, structural diagram of Byzantine Thema - all quite useful when you're unfamiliar with the region/era.

So, overall a resounding success. My only gripe is that this is the last in the Strategos series, and I can only hope Gordon Doherty can bring something as enthralling as this to the table next time round.
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on 17 September 2014
excellent !!!! very good ending to an enjoyable trilogy,
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on 13 July 2014
as usual it was difficult waiting for this latest and sadly final volume in the apion saga but the wait was worth the while.i read this in 2 days because you just cant put this guys novels down when you start them! fast action,great characters and a believable story take this third volume in the trilogy to its final and bloody conclusion and what a body count. there are still people alive at the end but i'll let you find out who for yourself when you read it. thoroughly recommended read for anyone interested in this or any other period of roman history. thankfully another volume in the legionnary series is promised in 2015 after as the author himself says he takes a break to recharge his batteries!! i for one cant wait!!
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on 27 October 2015
This book is one of three in a series --Strategos- These are all a really good read,well written and put together by an excellent writer, who some how blends historical fact and fiction, to make a superb gripping read. Highly recommend these books
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on 12 October 2014
Only disappointment is that this is the last in the series
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 August 2014
This is the third and final part of Doherty's 11th century Byzantium trilogy, largely revolving around the preparations for and eventually the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. Romanos Diogenes needs a resounding victory in the battlefield, if he is to secure his tenuous hold on the throne and thwart the Doukid line, who are constantly plotting for his downfall and their return. And the capture of the two fortresses next to Lake Van is the task, as this would allow for a much better control of all further Seljuk incursions.

Into this background the story from the first two books (Strategos: Born in the Borderlands (Strategos 1) and Strategos: Rise of the Golden Heart (Strategos 2)) continues, with Apion as the loyal Strategos and protagonist, Michael Psellos as the nemesis within, and Alp Arslan as the Seljuk challenger. The book is similarly full of plotting, assassination attempts and the like, where the author perhaps takes ever more liberty with historically known fact in order to make the story more compelling. And he certainly succeeds in making it an interesting read, even if more and more elements deviate quite a bit from accepted historical fact.

In spite of this, the book is a fitting end to the trilogy and well worth a read for people interested in Byzantium, as the author manages to bring the period to life quite nicely, requiring none of the hard work necessary, when reading books from the period (such as Anna Komnena's The Alexiad (Penguin Classics)).

As in the other two, the author provides maps, a guide to how the imperial forces were organized into units and a section at the end, where he discusses his deviation from historical fact - definitely useful for people interested in the educational, as well as the entertainment aspect of the book.

If you came to the trilogy without much prior knowledge of the times or historical events into which the series is placed, I would also advise - especially for this book, not to inform yourself ahead of reading it too much, as some of the drama of the final battle will be taken away if you already know the outcome.

In summary, I can only recommend the books to people interested in Byzantium, the Seljuk empire and the historical period more generally, or those who like their action novels with a historical, as opposed to contemporary twist. Sure, there is more deviation from the accepted version of events in the final two books than some reviewers might like and Byzantium is probably generally portrayed as weaker than it actually was at the time, but the author nevertheless managed an excellent feat in bringing the period to life, and probably to many more readers than the non-fiction books on the subject manage on their own.
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on 22 December 2014
Another fast paced action story about the Strategos . Couldn't wait for the end. Full of intrigue and facts. I now know a lot more about that period in history.
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on 27 July 2014
Great book. A fitting end to the series...
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