Deborah Ideiosepius's Reviews > Byzantium

Byzantium by Michael Ennis
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's review
Jun 04, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: historic-fact
Recommended to Deborah by: Patrick
Recommended for: People who like ‘historical epic’ the Varangians, Byzantine Empire.

I have struggled to decide how to rate this book quite a bit and have rated it high despite a few quite integral flaws;

It took me a long time to read this book; months where I would normally I get through a good book in days. Honestly, I may never have finished it if it did not relate so very specifically to my historical re-enactment group. I would not normally rate high a book that took that long to read or which I had considered putting down unfinished.

Byzantium is copyrighted in the 1980’s, I would guess that it was written in the 70’s because it has that “epic” style of writing that was common at the time. I read a lot of books in the ‘epic’ style of the seventies but I was never a complete fan of the genera.

The biggest (compound) flaw actually derives from a main strength of the novel; the plot is too complicated, there are too many characters with too many sub-plots and this causes the story to move way too slowly. This means that put the book down for a day, and when you pick it up you cannot figure out who some of the characters are and you have to back-read to catch up.

So how is this a strength? The research that has gone into the novel is stupendous; the characters are hard to follow because they are called by accurate names and titles for the Byzantine Empire at that place and time. The details that I can verify such as Roman cookery, feast presentation, or things based on Archaeological digs, are derived from real information. Given the person who lent it to me (Thanks’ Patrick) I can pretty much be assured that all of the battle details are accurate also.

I found the depictions of the Vikings great, the battles and travels were fascinating, I thought the descriptions of Constantinople and The Empire inspired. The first quarter/third of the book was very good but it bogged down in the centre where everything was about convoluted politics and an occasionally annoying love story.

The end redeemed it for me though someone who does not like their history over fictionised may not be a fan. I found the last couple of chapters were great, the final chapter in the life of Haraldr Hardraada (which was the final chapter of the book) was well done and I had entertained doubts about how it could be pulled off. The afterword summed it up nicely for me.
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