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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 June 2011
The Sword of Damascus (Aelric) [Hardcover]
Richard Blake (Author)

Having read Richard Blakes previous books I knew that it was a book that I had to be in the right frame of mind to read, different authors have different styles.
Your Simon Scarrows, Conn Igguldens and Anthonys Riches type novels whilst containing plenty of history are written in that fast paced action style that many class as Swords and Sandals, or Blood and action. I would put Richard Blake more in the Harry Sidebottom category, Both authors who provide a fantastic rich deep historical read, but at a slower pace. The action is still there its just tempered with a bit more informative history. This is by no means a text book though, as usual for Blake there is plenty of intrigue, the characters are excellently written and the authors passion for his subject period is blatantly obvious.
If you have not read any of this series then I strongly suggest that you go back to the beginning and start there (but that's a personal preference, I hate starting a story part way through)

Mr Blake will remain on my to buy list for future titles, I recommend this for the history lovers and the swords and sandals types...Just be aware its not as pacey as some you read
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on 15 September 2011
Here's Aelric as an old cleric teaching greek and Latin classes in an old monastery in Britannia, far from the turmoils of civilized world. But suddenly, the monastery is under siege and aelric finds himself once again plunged in the dangers og history. Victorious moslems are thwarted in their drive to conquer constantinople and what's left of the eastern Roman Empire by the formidable weapon calle "Greek Fire". Many factions vie for exacting Aelric's help on the matter, or at least preventing him to give it to others. And a miracolously rejuvenated aelric must again fight one actin against another to save history as we know it. Written in the usual sardonic, if at times bittersweet mood, this book is a worthi addiction to aelric's saga.
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on 7 November 2011
there were times when this novel read like a clip show 25th anniverary novel bringing together the old cast and the may pages of old old aelric spending most of the time reminiscing to his mini me edward about his imperial service stories that promised better plotlines than this adventure
but i do believe the putting the 97 year old hero central stage in what to date was the best adventure was an original and excellent plot device of blakes
better charactors and villains were introduced and very good villains too but any novel without priscus is a boon despite the fact of the 97 year old hero with his wig, dentures and glasses and that he could still take out every asassin sent his way and foil the best plots much backstory was revealed and far from being a stop gap clip show this book revitalized aelric and made me want more
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on 3 October 2011
The Sword of Damascus
By Richard Blake

For several years now, Richard Blake has been turning out one Aelric novel every year. He began with Conspiracies of Rome, in which he introduced us to his rather nasty but engaging hero from England. Next was The Terror of Constantinople, in which he took us and his hero straight into the sewer of imperial politics. Then came The Blood of Alexandria, featuring a world of astonishing decadence, and one all the more astonishing for its rather clichéd components.

If you have kept count you will not be surprised to learn that The Sword of Damascus is the fourth in the series. It's at this point that some writers begin to run out of ideas and revisit earlier places and situations. Not so Blake; what he does is to take all his own conventions and turn them on their head.

A normal Aelric novel begins with the aged hero moaning about life as a refugee in Jarrow (why he is on the run from a Byzantine Empire he seems to have spent most of the 7th century running is something that is never quite revealed). He chats with his student Bede. He wanders about, drawing the reader's attention to the many ailments one can look forward to in extreme old age. The first chapter over, he then takes up his pen and turns the clock back perhaps seventy years, to a time when he was young and beautiful and deadly, and lustful for anyone, male or female, able to take his fancy.

The Sword of Damascus starts in the usual way. There is a raid on Aelric's monastery by savages from across the wide northern sea. But the introductory chapter, after which we normally get moved back in time, is followed by another, and yet another, and strong characters begin to emerge. You almost feel short-changed when he announces that the present can take care for itself and, with the barbarians actually banging on the main gate, begins writing about a youthful trip to Athens.

But he doesn't remain in Athens for long. What he does instead is to go back to narrating a barbarian raid that isn't what it seems; and characters you thought had been wasted in the first few chapters gather more and more substance. By now you've been sucked into a thriller that shows no sign of letting up in its progress from Jarrow to Damascus.

The plot is extraordinary, dealing with the survival and resurgence of the Byzantine Empire in the first century of Islamic expansion. I won't describe the various twists and turns. Most make perfect sense after the event but are difficult to predict, and I'd not wish to deprive other readers of the immense pleasure I got from the book. Instead I will mention Blake's development of character. I am not the first to observe that he seems able only to create different kinds of villain. Aelric is unquestionably a man of honour, but he is by no sane definition a nice chap. In The Blood of Alexandria, he is mostly overshadowed by Priscus, who must surely be one of the more notable villains in historical fiction.

It's much the same in The Sword of Damascus, in which the only really "nice" character is Wilfred. Blake treats poor Wilfred with increasingly open contempt, and seems glad to kill him off during a stopover in North Africa, where he dies terrified and in pain (while everyone about his deathbed would be looking at his watch, if watches had been invented at the time). The most engaging character, after Aelric himself, is Edward, an adolescent psychopath and sadist. He appears on the first page of the novel, and four hundred and whatever pages later, he is on what is effectively the last page. Grown up, transformed, redeemed - and ready to begin a career that you know will leave many people wishing he'd never been born.

There are other characters worth mentioning. There is Brother Cuthbert, religious maniac and paedophile - I hardly think many readers will regret his demise. There is "Brother" Joseph, who is easily one of Blake's most slippery characters. There is Meekal/Michael. There is Karim, the cowardly Saracen. And so on. The novel is filled with people you'd never want to have as neighbours or colleagues, though many of are also the kind of people who drive history along.

Above them all stands Aelric, magnificent even in his decay. You can't expect too much activity from a man in his late nineties; but between fussing about his dentures and looking into cures for long-sightedness, he still manages to kill anyone who gets seriously in his way, and to change the course of history, even if he isn't up to much running about this time. Whatever his personal faults, he never lets down his author, or the reader, or any of the causes that drive him to remain the greatest man of his age.

In this novel there are many passages of great beauty; for the most part they are reflections on the nature of old age. And, as is usual with Blake, there are many passages of exuberant vulgarity.

When all's said and done, The Sword of Damascus is a glorious read. It grips you from the first page, and it doesn't let you go until the very end. I have a great partiality for The Terror of Constantinople, but I am not at all sure that this one is not the best Blake yet. In any event, I am now looking forward with great eagerness to The Ghosts of Athens.
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on 4 October 2011
Unlike the previous installments in this series, this one is recounted by Aelric in his extreme old age, as he approaches the century mark. Decades after Aelric preserved Egypt (and its grain shipments) for the Empire, and after the armies of the Caliphate rendered it all wasted effort, he spends his final years in a Kentish monastery teaching classical languages to the children of Anglo-Saxon peasants.

...Until he is sucked back once again into the politics of clashing empires.

The Umayyad Caliph Muawiya, having defeated the partisans of Ali in a civil war, reigns from the recently conquered city of Damascus. The Caliphate conceals barely suppressed political divisions, as the family and close associates of the Prophet simmer with resentment back in the Hejaz, and Muawiya creates a new aristocracy of his own from converted Greeks and Syrians. Of course the Byzantine Empire, shrunk to a core of the City and its European provinces, has its spoon in the political stew of the Caliphate. And all these factions, each for reasons of its own, want Aelric -- who once saved the City with his invention of Greek Fire -- in Damascus.

The first-person perspective, from Aelric's extreme old age, of the transitoriness of human affairs, and overshadowed by the prospect of his mortality, give this story bittersweet overtones lacking from the others.
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on 22 July 2015
It is no secret that I really, really like this series - its blend of accurate historical background, and fictional, character-full, action is a true joy.
And this is - so far as I have read the series - just about the best. With fully-fleshed travels through Spain, Africa and the Middle-East, this novel's paced style kept me short of sleep, because I could not put it down. With some great, strong characters, which are both believable and well-rounded, set against a backdrop of intrigue in dark-ages Damascus, the storyline weaves and bobs with unerring timing toward its explosive denouement.
What I like is the depth of characters within the book; I was involved in real lives here, it seemed, as it always does seem when the storytellers' art is plied with skill, as here. I felt the cold dampness of Jarrow, my mouth dried up in the arid deserts of Africa, and I worried with Alaric/Aelric at the duplicitous nature of Damascan politicking.
A fine romp, this, then, and the highlight of the series so far, for me.
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on 5 July 2012
Aelric comes up trumps once more in this fascinating series which combines a boys own joy of adventure and smut, with some pretty decent historical narative and analysis.
Priscus is undoubtedly the heir apparent to all arch villains from Von Stalhein to Moriarty. it is a pitty he does not feature, except in the shadows.
Unlike other reviewers, I thought Sword Of Damascus scampered along at quite a rate of knots. it constantly displays the great talent of Blake for fitting contempory notions into a believable past with both humour and pathos. These do not knock you over the head but instead induce a fundamental trust in the reality and likability of the characters. back stories are strong here which further enhances the sense of immersion into this perilous and overlooked period.
Aeleric is rotten, luxurient and full of himself. I would be too.
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on 27 June 2011
It is not offten that our hero is in his nineties with poor eyesight,a growing bald patch and the gradual wearing out of teeth and to quote his good self "age had crept slowley up behind me"but this is Aelric who still has his charm,his intelligence,his resourcefulness,and his talent for cold and homicidal duplicity, so plenty for us to enjoy.Our hero is kidnapp and taken on a near-fatal chase through the Mediterranean and then comes face to face with old enemies and family.Richard Blake brings in-depth research and a love of the period,add in the vived characters and devious potting,along with large dollops of intrigue and great fun and we have a adventure that will keep you grip to the end .I hope it will not be to long before we visit Jarrow and Aelric the Magnificent again.
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on 21 April 2012
a good read,i have enjoyed the series so far, they are well written & within the bounds of possibility,i look foreward to further books from this author.
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on 21 August 2014
This is a superb first person adventure thriller set a few hundred years AD. Incredibly well told story and such a atmospheric narrative of the Roman empire in its decline.
If you like the Flashman papers then this is the book for you. I honestly have not enjoyed a book this much since I discovered Flashy.
Read this and you will be hooked.
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