Review: Stephen Lawhead - Byzantium

Brian G Turner

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An Irish Monk, Aidan, is honoured with the task of accompanying a gift – the Book of Kells – as it is transported to Byzantium, to be offered to the Emperor at Constantinople. However, they've hardly sailed past the coast of Britain when disaster strikes.

What follows next is a fascinating adventure across the landscape of the 9th century, that takes the reader into Gaul, life with Vikings, the city of Constantinople, and even the deserts of Arabia.

What really brings this book to life is the people – the author has very skillfully brought out the different cultures with an excellent eye for detail and character, and avoids simple pigeonholes to create a sweeping cast devoid of the easy caricatures other book-reviews may fall for. There's no judgement either – he creates sympathetic characters everywhere, and for what was possibly the first time in years I was actually rooting for the people in the book.

The movement is nice, and key-plot elements are nicely threaded together. It's hard for me to experience a story without being terribly critical about it, but I was pleasantly surprised to find no real complaints with this work (excepting a little on the acquisition of language and a couple of points about Byzantine history - but neither was a big issue and I'll let those go).

Classic scene – A captive Aidan trying to explain Jesus to a group of Viking warriors. Superb comedy.

This, simply put, is a great read, and highly recommended.
 

Brian G Turner

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Finished re-reading this recently...

A fantastic read, and I'm really surprised that more people aren't talking about it. I mean, Celtic Monks, Vikings, Constantinople, and the Golden Age of Islam - what's not to like about it?!

Even better is that it's well-written and never really flags. The characters are great, its rich in detail, the settings are alive, and the pace never lets up.

This was my third (or fourth?) reading of this book and it's still a personal favourite. My only real criticisms are a) there's no ebook version and the paperback is desperate for a re-release, and b) despite every appearance of being based on real characters, it's apparently not - it's that convincing.

If you have any kind of interest in the early mediaeval period/late antiquity history then this book shines.
 
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