Strategos – Apion does it again.
It’s been a while since I’ve read one of Gordon’s books (the last one being the first in the Strategos series.) And once again I find myself not only impressed with the quality of his writing, but even a little jealous.
Again, for the record I have, since we started writing, become a friend of Gordon’s, and consequently, feel free to ignore this review, but the review is genuine for all our acquaintance.
Strategos 1 was largely a tale of personal growth for the youthful Apion, battling physical disability, personal demons and the harshness of a land torn by war and distrust. I was therefore surprised when I picked up book 2 to discover that the story has moved on a number of years and Apion is now a grown man, battle-hardened, jaded and fatalistic, watching his Empire falling apart and fighting to maintain his corner of it.
This book really does take us in a different direction to book 1, which in retrospect is only natural. No follow up to book 1 could have seamlessly continued from where it left off. Rise of the Golden Heart concerns itself largely with the power struggles in Byzantium, corruption in the Imperial Court and the rise of Romanos Diogenes. In this installment, Apion is drawn into the horror of court life as well as that of border warfare. The story takes us from the Turkish border wars to Constantinople, across Byzantine Europe and then back to the plains of Syria by way of intrigue, betrayal, vendetta and, of course – as readers of Gordon’s work have come to expect and love – WAR!
Short of what I’ve noted above, I’ll not delve deeply into the plot for fear of spoilers, but suffice it to say there is an ongoing theme of betrayal and treachery throughout, whether the background be the tinkling fountains of the Constantinople palace or the arid, deadly mountains of southern Anatolia.
As usual with Gordon’s writing there are certain high points and factors that stand out for me. One is the thoroughness of his plotting and research. The story is perfectly formed and runs in an undeniably smooth arc, while threading itself around the known historical fact and not twisting, altering or guessing anything.
Second is the quality of the language itself. Gordon is fast becoming a master of the historical genre with his elegant turns of phrase and sensory, tactile descriptions which bring the locations to life in the text.
Thirdly, the characters are realistic and sympathetic. There is nothing 2-dimensional or bland about them. In particular, I loved the gradual shifts in the general attitude of Apion as the world turns around him, affecting his life.
I understand that there will be a third volume in the series, and I cannot wait to see what he does with a – presumable older again – Apion, probably at the dreadful battle of Manzikert.
If you’ve read Strategos, why are you reading this. Click the ‘Buy’ button and read the book instead. If you’ve not, boy have you got some engrossing hours ahead.
Next up for me on the Gordonologue: Legionary II.