The Walls of Byzantium, by James Heneage

Review published on September 5, 2013.Reviewed by jj redfearn

Nudge Reviewer Rating:

Monemvasia is a small elongated islet just off the Greek Peloponnese and reached by a short causeway from the shore. The ancient city is invisible from the coast, located behind strong walls on the seaward side of the island and dominated by the high cliffs of its plateau. Behind its sea walls the tiny and very narrow ribbon of town hugs the foot of the steep cliffside from where a hard to find narrow path zigzags to the remains of citadel and church above.

Fifty miles or so away to the northwest Mistra clings to the steep sides of a tall conical hill overlooking Sparta. The ruined Byzantine town rises up from a car park low on the hillside outside its walls to a citadel perched right on the summit. Fortunately there’s a second carpark just below the fortress, but its still a steep climb to the top from there.

In the 1390s, outside of Constantinople these towns were all that was left of the eastern Roman, Byzantine, empire. And the empire was under attack from the Ottomans.

Into this world comes Luke, the adolescent son of a Varangian, trainee Varangian knight, inheritor of a famous Varangian sword, expert horseman and seeker of a Varangian secret, starts his adventures from Monemvasia. His mission, to save the empire by finding and exploiting the Varangian secret believed to be hidden in Mistra, does not get off to a good start. He keeps loosing the sword. Rescuing Anna, the Mistran love of his life, he escapes without her to Chios where things look up as he meets the delectable Fiorenza, love interest number two, is taken under her husband’s wing and quickly becomes an important soldier, architect and business man.

Walls is a good piece of narrative fiction and should be read in escapist mode. It has either too much or too little history in it to make it a deeper read. By inserting Luke into real history he’s forced to travel around the 14th century world to visit all the important places and be present at the important events, resulting in a somewhat contrived plot. The detail doesn’t work too well. For two ladies, an aging philosopher/poet/spy and their guards to ride from Edirne to Mistra in three days would be astonishing. By road today its over 700 miles and driving takes more than twelve hours. Since the party stopped overnight and probably had meal-pee-and-pooh breaks during the day a horse would have to do at least, say, 20 mph for 36 hours to cover that distance, and do it on 14th century tracks and paths. The riders would be exhausted and the horses dead. The odd little adult sections are a bit contrived as well. They don’t fit with the overall style, a bit like putting a few 18 scenes in a PG film.

But it doesn’t matter. In escapist mode this is fun and quick to read and I’ll look forwards to book two in the series. Especially if the editor gets to work on it.


An extract from The Einstein Pursuit, by Chris Kuzneski


Master of War, by David Gilman

You may also like