Review of Greek Fire

Greek Fire (Talon #4) Greek Fire by James Boschert

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In 1176 Talon de Gilles and his friends languish in the port of Acre at the start of the fourth book in the Talon series. Having captured a ship, they don’t know what to do with it. There’s also a dispute as to who actually owns the vessel; the Templars claim it belongs to them since Talon belongs to the order. The freed galley slaves can find no work and the city is both expensive to live in and inundated with squalor. Tempers flare and Talon and his friends find themselves in jail, where it takes Sergeant Templar Max Bauersdorf three days to track them down.

Sir Guy de Veres, a senior knight in the order, is in need of a warship with a reliable crew. Talon’s galley suits his purpose, but he insists that they leave late at night to prevent the various spies within the city from getting wind of his secret mission. The documents he carries are for the Byzantine emperor, so speed and tact are essential. Once again, Talon, who’s not particularly fond of boats, finds himself at sea on a journey into the unknown. Aside from Sir Guy and Max, the entourage includes the Byzantine emissary Alexios Kalothesos, who at first looks down upon Talon, but soon comes to admire Talon’s eagerness to master what he doesn’t know and to call him friend.

While visiting Alexios’s home, Talon and Max recognize another foreigner, the Genoese merchant whom they blame for the murder of a fellow Templar while they were in Egypt. Max wants to avenge the death of their friend, but Talon urges greater caution. Caravello Levaggi appears to be a simple merchant, but appearances are deceiving. In actuality, he’s there to meet with someone of importance in the Byzantine government. Both men wish to topple the current regime, and they plan to do so with the help of an Arab pirate fleet and a highly-prized, but carefully guarded, Byzantine weapon – Greek fire, which can even burns on water – because there is no defense against it.

The Byzantine emperor seems amenable to Sir Guy’s proposals, but he insists that Talon remain in Byzantium while Sir Guy returns to the Templars. During this interlude, Talon becomes better acquainted with the political and cultural affairs of the city, and even joins Alexios in playing a game of Tzykanion. But Talon’s skill makes him two powerful enemies: the son of the traitorous government official and the emperor’s brother. When the emperor decides to lead an offensive against the Turks, Talon is ordered to accompany the army. Alexios’s urging of caution at a dangerous point in the campaign falls on deaf ears and he, Talon, and Max discover too late that the army marches into a devastating and brutal ambush from which none of them emerge unscathed.

To aid the reader in keeping track of who’s who and where’s what, the author has included maps of the Byzantine Empire in 1165 and Constantinople, as well as a list of characters and who they are. One drawback is that the story could do with a second proofreading to correct minor errors in spelling and punctuation.

The first half of this story provides interesting details about Byzantium and lays necessary groundwork for understanding what unfolds, but doesn’t hold the reader’s interest quite as well as previous titles in the series. One notable change in this volume is Talon no longer keeps his separation from the woman he loves and his stalwart friend from his days among the assassins at the forefront of his thoughts. Aside from an early reference to them, no further mention is made until much later, whereas in previous books there were constant reminders and mentions of them. Fate once again thwarts his attempts to return to Syria, yet with his focus more on what to do with his ship than on his primary goal of finding them, the purpose in going to the Middle East gets lost in Greek Fire. Even so, readers who stick with the adventure are amply rewarded once the army leaves on campaign and Talon encounters treachery, amorous women, and other men trained as assassins whose mission it is to kill Talon, as well as some of his friends. There are also tense, riveting scenes involving the Arab pirates, Greek fire, and Talon’s well-honed skills at subterfuge and stealth.

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Published on July 26, 2019 16:20 Tags: byzantine-empire, historical-fiction, pirates, talon-series, templars, treachery
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