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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 21 July 2013
The previous volume did not really work for me, for quite a number of reasons. Although I still had a couple of major problems, I found "Rise of the Golden Heart" significantly better than the first episode, or perhaps simply more to my taste.

The story takes place in 1067, some 12 years after the first volume. Apion, the hero, has become Strategos of Chaldia, replacing the old Cydones who has retired. The themata and its Strategos are still holding out - barely - against the attack of the Seljuks who are getting bolder and bolder in their attacks. Apion, and all other Strategos and Dukes are called to Constantinople after the death of Constantine X to choose a new Emperor who will shore up the frontiers and defend the Empire. This will be Romanos Diogenes, the victorious general (against the Petcheneges) who becomes Romanus IV and marries Eudoxia, the widow of his predecessor. The opposition of the Doukai clan, the relatives of the previous Emperor and of his infant sons makes the new Emperor's task perilous. Having failed to prevent his coronation, the Doukai will stop at nothing to dethrone the new emperor backed by Apion.
So, you can expect plenty of plotting and drama, and plenty of battles and fighting. Some are fiction, such as the assassination attempt against Romanus. Others do not seem to have happened quite as described by the author, such as the attack, storm and looting of Caesarea in Cappadocia, but all of them are quite griping.

Another interesting choice made by the author is to turn the historical Michael Psellos, the consummate bureaucrat and courtier who served four different Emperors and comes across as the ultimate political "survivor" into some kind of super-evil cruel and sadistic arch-villain. I was a bit surprised by this. It is a quite original piece of fiction and an interesting choice to make. While the importance of Psellos seems exaggerated in the novel, at least from what we know from the historical character, his role as adviser and client of the Doukai (he would later become the preceptor of the Doukai heir) makes this just about plausible. What is less plausible, however, is the portray that Gordon Doherty draws of John Doukas (the future Caesar) who is made into some kind of unscrupulous, over-ambitious, arrogant fool that Psellos manipulates. Rather than Psellos, John seems to have been the epitome of the consummate and power-hungry Byzantine noble seeking to promote the interests of his clan (and therefore his own) by fair means or foul. In other words, he was certainly no fool. IN fact, some fourteen years later, it is his quick reactions in sizing the taxes due to Constantinople and putting them at the disposal of the Komneni brothers (Isaac and Alexius, to whom John was related by then since Alexis had married Irene Doukai) which would allow Alexius to pay the troops with which he would size the throne.

Then there are a few gripes with the historical context. Contrary to what the author states in the book and shows on the maps, Melitene was not the last imperial city to the east, far from it. The Empire also included the whole of Cilicia (including Tarsus and Adana) and Antioch and Edessa. Antioch, capital of one of the most important frontier Duchies, would only fall to the Turks in 1085 and Edessa two years later. So I am afraid to say that the maps are wrong, regardless of whether the borders of the various themes are correct or not (and some of them definitely look strange).

More generally, my main gripe is the author's tendency to "overdo it" in terms of drama to the extent that the story becomes simply implausible at times. So, you get the -rather exaggerated - impression that the frontier themes, and the Empire in general, are on the brink of collapse. Every battle sees the Byzantine forces loose most of their effectives with only a handful of survivors making it to fight another day, including when they are victorious. I could not help wondering, since this had been already the case in the first volume, how on earth the theme of Charsianon (and all the others) could replace their losses, assuming they were so grievous.

At one point, and given the huge losses that the Byzantines in general, and Apion's thema in particular (about three-quarters), suffer during the expedition to Hierapolis; I could not help wondering if this was realistic. In the last battle in particular, a couple of thousand battered infantry and some three hundred heavy cavalry (out of an initial army of some seven thousand which was probably low to begin with for an army in the presence of the Emperor) win and slaughter a fresh army of some ten thousand Turks from Alep.

This, together with a tendency to portray characters in black and white ("arch-villains" or "goodies"), is something that the author may want to try to address in his future instalment, to the extent that it would significantly add to the story's credibility. For instance, the rivalry between the Diogenai and the Doukai was a struggle between two powerful noble clans and their supporters, and Romanus Diogenai, who appears, at times, as some kind of paragon of military virtue was probably no angel and more likely to have been just as ambitious and power-hungry as any of the Doukai, rather than being only driven by the good of the Empire...
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on 29 July 2013
i couldnt wait for this one and sadly i couldnt put it down when i started reading it. i say sadly because once its gone its gone and your left waiting for the next one!! all 4 of mr dohertys books so far have been brilliant and this is no exception. fast paced and straight into the action from the start its virtually impossible to put down and is a great read. these books are historical fiction based around factual historical events and should be treated as such as the writers have the licence to write about the events as they perceive them. i dont understand gripes about the so called historical facts or whether the maps are accurate because its written as historical fiction. this guy is also well up there with the best authors in this genre already and currently anyone who likes this genre is spoilt for choice with some brilliant authors about. a great time to be into roman history and mr dohertys novels are a splendid edition. cant wait for legionnary 3 but i'll have to!!!
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on 13 July 2013
Doherty is a fantastic storyteller. This is the fourth book of his that I have read and his writing gets better each time. Watch this guy. A Cornwell or Gemmell in the making.

A real page turner which I thoroughly recommend.
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on 29 June 2013
Apion has returned in an amazing can't put down tale, Constantly battling in the Borderlands against the Seljuk threat to Byzantium in the 11th Century and the backstabbing of the Byzantium court.
Apion finds he has his hands full just trying to keep his men alive, with constant shortages of men and equipment, poor command structure and cowardly appointed leaders.
When he is recalled to Constantinople to give his support to the new Emperor he is caught up in the Bloody intrigues of the Palace, finally riding with his new Emperor to campaign against the Turk, where he finally lays some of his demons to rest.

Having read all of Gordon Doherty's books I found that the author goes from strength to strength in his story telling, he is quite the modern day Bard,
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on 15 August 2013
"Strategos “Rise of the Golden Heart”, a real treat for lovers of historical fiction, it sees the return of Apion in his 2nd exciting romp through the wastelands along the borders of the Byzantine Empire and the sometimes surreal landscape of 1068 AD Anatolia.

Apion is a real Mans Man. He is a true Hero! Honorable, honest, loyal, trustworthy, a true leader of men. Yet he is also a ruthless, merciless, and bloodthirsty bringer of death on the battlefield. A warrior who hacks his way through the enemy line in battle bringing pure slaughter to those who wish to defy his presence by standing in his way! So much fun to read!

The battle scenes are brutally realistic, fascinatingly described in a way that you can see the battlefield in your mind and picture exactly what is happening. The battle scenes are some of the best I have ever read. The battles are an apocalypse of chaos!

This book starts off exciting, and it is truly captivating all the way through, but before you know it, you are done and begging for more!

There is one torture scene that is truly memorable, even though it is brutally disturbing. This scene of unimaginable cruelty makes you hate the villain of the book with a real passion. (So much fun!)

The Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes is portrayed in this book for his military determination and desire to return Byzantium to its former glory. Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes does what it takes for a leader to push back the armies of the Seljuk Sultanate and to regain the borders lost by weaker, more corrupt leaders, who foolishly plundered Byzantium’s wealth while allowing her military power to decay into a state of dependence.

With this Emperor, and his strongest supporter “Apion”, no matter how outnumbered the
Byzantines are, they rise to the occasion, pull together under strong leadership, and crush all that face them, destroying everything in their path no matter what the odds.

Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes along with Apion and his trusted men, bring back pride, honor, respect, and determination, to the body and soul of the Byzantine army! Returning the Byzantines to a temporary state of their former dominance.

It is a great book! This is one of the few books which I plan on reading again. I highly recommend it as a
Must Read! It is thoroughly entertaining!
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on 17 July 2015
12 years have passed since we last saw Apion.. and by the authors own words they have been 12 bloody years..

The tone of the book is set from the start. Words that come to mind are Dark, Revenge & War

Apion and Nasir are looked in what looks like a never ending war between their opposing armies and from the start of the book you can tell Apion is currently on the losing side.. the borderlands of the empire look set to fall.. the Haga and his loyal men including my favourites from the previous book Sha, Blastares and Procopius stand in the way of the Seljuk army.

After a lot of bloodshed we see Apion summoned to Constantinople where we are introduced to a lot of new characters. The one I found interested me the most was Dederic a fellow solider, his character gains depth throughout the book, I love Apion don’t get me wrong but I absolutely loved Dederic.

The plot of the book surpassed any expectations I had. There’s so much crammed in to the book its crazy but nothing feels rushed or misplaced.

Now Apion along with his men are tasked to head into Syria and take the war to the Seljuks..and Nasir.

I don’t want to give away anything but Gordon manages to bring some conclusion to the whole Apion/Nasir revenge storyline while also leaving you on tenterhooks as to what will happen next. There are some big surprises in store for you lucky readers.

The author clearly knows his stuff, he fills you with so much background information throughout the book but I never felt bogged down.

If I was to think of anything I didn’t like it would only be that Sha, Blastares and Procopius don’t play as big a part in this book as I would have liked but saying that once you read the story you can tell why.. Gordon weaved such a good tale that these guys needed to take a step back in order to see the story develop.

This is such a good book and I can’t wait to get time to read the 3rd book! I highly recommend to check out Gordon’s work.

Gordon has quickly became a favorite author of mine and i'm excited to see what lies ahead
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 August 2014
This is Gordon Doherty's second instalment of the Strategos trilogy (following Strategos: Born in the Borderlands (Strategos 1) and pre-dating Strategos: Island in the Storm (Strategos 3)), covering the period after the Doukid dynasty lost the imperial throne and Romanos Diogenes was supposed to ascend.

The protagonist from the first book - Apion - returns as the Chaldian Strategos and meets some new enemies along the way, primarily focused around the court advisor Michael Psellos (a real historical figure, whose own Fourteen Byzantine Rulers: The Chronographia of Michael Psellus (Classics) describes amongst other things also the times covered here). He is perhaps caricatured somewhat as the super villain but would likely have been a wily political operator in real life, having had survived at the side of several rulers.

The book covers the period from 1067 to roughly 1069, prior to the preparations for the final battle - that of Manzikert - and explains the further expansion of the Seljuk empire, as well as their appetite for more.

The author manages to continue in a similar tone to that of the first book, with a good pace and lively action sequences combined with a reasonable character development. The protagonist may at times have almost superhuman characteristics and the author strays somewhat more from the accepted historical fact than in the first volume. Still, this is an excellent, 'fictionalized' description of the second half of the 11th century Byzantium as just like the first book, a much more readable way to approach the subject than the contemporary reports (such as the already mentioned one by Psellos (Fourteen Byzantine Rulers: The Chronographia of Michael Psellus (Classics)) or The Alexiad (Penguin Classics)). And the author continues with the approach established in the first book, where at the end an account of where he deviated from commonly accepted historical fact, is given.

Overall if Byzantium is your thing and you like it perhaps to flow better than a dry, non-fiction work can achieve, it is hard to go wrong with the book. And there is another one still to come. As already mentioned in the review for the first book of the series, Cross and Crescent in the Balkans: The Ottoman Conquest of Southeastern Europe (14th - 15th centuries) makes a good companion on the historical aspects of the period and I would definitely recommend it to those looking for a concise way of complementing the information gathered in the Strategos trilogy with more historical fact.
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on 15 December 2013
It's been a while since I've read one of Gordon's books (the last one being the first in the Strategos series.) And once again I find myself not only impressed with the quality of his writing, but even a little jealous.

Again, for the record I have, since we started writing, become a friend of Gordon's, and consequently, feel free to ignore this review, but the review is genuine for all our acquaintance.

Strategos 1 was largely a tale of personal growth for the youthful Apion, battling physical disability, personal demons and the harshness of a land torn by war and distrust. I was therefore surprised when I picked up book 2 to discover that the story has moved on a number of years and Apion is now a grown man, battle-hardened, jaded and fatalistic, watching his Empire falling apart and fighting to maintain his corner of it.

This book really does take us in a different direction to book 1, which in retrospect is only natural. No follow up to book 1 could have seamlessly continued from where it left off. Rise of the Golden Heart concerns itself largely with the power struggles in Byzantium, corruption in the Imperial Court and the rise of Romanos Diogenes. In this installment, Apion is drawn into the horror of court life as well as that of border warfare. The story takes us from the Turkish border wars to Constantinople, across Byzantine Europe and then back to the plains of Syria by way of intrigue, betrayal, vendetta and, of course - as readers of Gordon's work have come to expect and love - WAR!

Short of what I've noted above, I'll not delve deeply into the plot for fear of spoilers, but suffice it to say there is an ongoing theme of betrayal and treachery throughout, whether the background be the tinkling fountains of the Constantinople palace or the arid, deadly mountains of southern Anatolia.

As usual with Gordon's writing there are certain high points and factors that stand out for me. One is the thoroughness of his plotting and research. The story is perfectly formed and runs in an undeniably smooth arc, while threading itself around the known historical fact and not twisting, altering or guessing anything.

Second is the quality of the language itself. Gordon is fast becoming a master of the historical genre with his elegant turns of phrase and sensory, tactile descriptions which bring the locations to life in the text.

Thirdly, the characters are realistic and sympathetic. There is nothing 2-dimensional or bland about them. In particular, I loved the gradual shifts in the general attitude of Apion as the world turns around him, affecting his life.

I understand that there will be a third volume in the series, and I cannot wait to see what he does with a - presumable older again - Apion, probably at the dreadful battle of Manzikert.

If you've read Strategos, why are you reading this. Click the 'Buy' button and read the book instead. If you've not, boy have you got some engrossing hours ahead.

Next up for me on the Gordonologue: Legionary II.

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on 30 July 2013
If you want a good book, learn a little Byzantine history, this book is for you. Once I started to read it I could not put it down. Gordon Doherty is a good up and coming writer, I would recommend reading his other novels as well if you have not already.
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on 16 August 2013
Having followed our hero Apion the Haga to date the continuing saga impress's again with its revelations of the intrigue and murderous behaviour that was seemingly hard-wired into Byzantium politics as it was in the Western Empire as the Emperor's and their courts fought solely to survive above the interests of the Empire.
Gordon Doherty paints a brilliant picture of what it must have been like to survive not only against his sworn enemies the Seljuk Turks but even more so the hidden enemies of the court in Constantinople even more dangerous than than Turks as a knife in the back in the dark cannot be seen if you are viewed as Apion is a dangerous powerful independent minded military hero.
The starving of funds for the army which was nothing better than an organised rabble makes the survival of the Eastern Empire until the 15thC a miracle.
The battle scenes are excellent as is the Haga's ability to out fox the superior forces of the Turks.
I cannot but think as we today dislike intensely our politicians whose incompetence see our armed forces whittled away to the ridiculous situation we have more Generals than Tanks, more Admirals than warships that our current sorry rulers are as self-seeking in their quest for power as were the men and women at the court of Constantinople.
Overall this is genuine history of an Empire woven into a story of a period and Empire sorely neglected by authors but bought to life by Gordon's novel and a thoroughly enjoyable read it is as well
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