readingtrance

book reviews by Althea

Byzantium – Michael Ennis ***

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I read Ennis’ other novel, ‘The Duchess of Milan,’ oh, almost 10 years ago now – and have been wanting to read ‘Byzantium’ since then. Sometimes I’m a bit slow-moving about things like that, but this book was also quite hard to find. And it weighs about a thousand pounds.

Anyway, over the years, quite a lot of anticipation built up regarding this book. I really thought it was going to be great. I have to admit I was rather disappointed. It was just OK.

It needed an editor. I love long books, but this one started quite well, and ended quite well, but there was a big, huge chunk of boring in the middle.

I also love dramatic writing, and have defended staunchly some writers that others criticize for going over the top (S.P. Somtow, Kathe Koja, Anais Nin). However, the writing in this book was frequently florid and overdone, even for me.

The characterization was both vague and jump-y. The protagonist shifts from being a callow lad to a seasoned warrior because the author says so – I didn’t really feel it happening. It took me quite a while to really distinguish between the three main women in the story – too often, the characters are merely defined by their perversions, rather than feeling like well-rounded people.

Still – I liked a lot about it. The epic follows the life of Haraldr Sigurdarson, heir to the throne of Norway, who travels with the Varangian Guard to Byzantium, and, without the Romans knowing he is the heir, rises to a position of power, and finds love with a noblewoman. As one might expect, there is plenty of ‘byzantine’ intrigue, battles and violence, lust and insanity. The book follows known historical facts about the characters, but fictionalizes them heavily.

Overall, I feel that with a better editor – one who wasn’t afraid to rein in some of the more eye-rolling language, eliminate 90% of the uses of the phrase “purple-born,” and tighten up the events in the middle of the book to create more dramatic tension, etc – this would have been an excellent book.

I have to re-read Duchess of Milan now… I hope it’s as good as I remember it being!

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