ONE FOR SORROW by
Mary Reed & Eric Mayer
It is always pleasant when somebody writes a novel about a relatively untapped period of history and stories set during the reign of Justinian and Theodora are thin on the ground. This then is the welcome return of John The Eunuch, Lord Chamberlain to the Emperor who has hitherto only been glimpsed in short story form in Robinson’s excellent Mammoth series whodunit compendiums. As the novel opens he is sitting in the Hippodrome watching the May Games when a trio of Cretan bull leapers surge into the arena. Surely one is his former lover from the days before he became a eunuch? More shocks follow in the form of the dead body of his colleague and an emissary from King Arthur’s court who is looking for the Holy Grail and a mysterious soothsayer, thought to be the legendary Wandering Jew. Now read on!
Here is 6th century Byzantium in all its muck and glory, a place where beggars rub shoulders with courtiers and nobody is safe. Old religions exist alongside the official Christianity and the ancient world is giving way to the Middle Ages. There is much to admire here – the tortuous plot, tangible descriptions of the glare and glitter of this fantastic place and the highly likeable John himself. One thing I particularly admired was the writers’ method of telling the story from the viewpoint of a non-Christian (John is a follower of Mithra) and so therefore we see our familiar religion through the eyes of somebody to whom it all seems incomprehensible and rather undesirable. All in all it is like looking at a sumptuous mosaic and the pace never flags. I for one found it very enjoyable and look forward to the sequel Two For Joy which is out later this year.
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