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Anna of Byzantium (Laurel-Leaf Books) Mass Market Paperback – October 10, 2000

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Series: Laurel-Leaf Books
  • Mass Market Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Laurel Leaf; Reprint edition (October 10, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0440415365
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440415367
  • Product Dimensions: 0.1 x 0.1 x 0.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #261,937 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This uneven first novel is narrated by Anna, the first-born daughter of the Emperor of Byzantium, poised to inherit the throne. Inspired by the real Anna Comnena (1083-1153) who chronicled her father's reign in The Alexiad, the story begins in a convent, where 17-year-old Anna lives in exile. Most of the book flashes back to the princess's upbringing and her attempt on her brother John's life that led to her monastic imprisonment. Although the author successfully evokes an aura of claustrophobia within the castle and convent, she provides few details to distinguish one setting from another. The scenes in the throne room involving visiting dignitaries or soldiers do little to illustrate the pageantry or politics of the age, and the main characters lack definitionAwith the exception of the Machiavellian grandmother. Anna herself, with her education in history, classics and science, may reverse any preconceived assumptions about the ignorance and lowly position of women in the Middle Ages, but her character as portrayed here is not likable until the book's conclusion. Readers may not stay around long enough to witness her humbling fall from power and transition to scholar. Ages 10-up. (June)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Grade 6-10-The 11th-century Byzantine princess Anna Comnena was a remarkable woman. Designated as a child to inherit the throne, she was educated to be a ruler. She learned, from her mother and grandmother, to manipulate the intrigues and factions of the court, and when she was displaced as heir by her brother, she schemed, without success, to assassinate him and regain her position. In this novel, Anna tells her own story, looking back on her former life from the convent to which she has been banished. The first-person device serves well to focus the action on the princess and to build a plausible character study of a brilliant and tempestuous young woman frustrated and embittered by the loss of her expectations of achieving supreme power. However, the book exemplifies the difficulty of writing a historical novel about a real person. Anna's brother is depicted throughout as a spoiled monster who (in contrast to the brilliant Anna) refuses to learn to read. Yet historians characterize John's rule as one of personal virtue and administrative competence and tell that he forgave his sister for her many conspiracies against him. Barrett acknowledges in an afterword that she "changed some of the facts," but, unfortunately, it is the story she spins that will remain with young readers. Still, few books, with the notable exception of Peter Dickinson's The Dancing Bear (Little, Brown, 1972; o.p.), have as their backdrop the colorful and historically significant Byzantine Empire.
Shirley Wilton, Ocean County College, Toms River, NJ
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up mostly in New York state. I went to college in New England and graduate school in California.

The first book I ever read by myself was called Little Bobo and His Blue Jacket. I still have it. I learned to read when I was three, but I know now that this doesn't mean much. My brother didn't really read until he was seven, and now he reads more and remembers it better than I do.

I have a husband, two grown children, and two crazy Jack Russell terriers.

I teach Italian and other subjects at Vanderbilt University, but I've handed in my resignation and plan to retire in May, 2012, to write full time. I love doing school visits and hope that when my schedule doesn't mean that I'm working while kids are in school, I'll be able to do more of them.

I like to travel, especially to Italy, and especially with my family. I used to skydive (that's how I met my husband, but on the ground, not in the air!) but I haven't jumped out of an airplane in a long time.

Customer Reviews

Anna has a great voice, and all the characters were very interesting.
Erika (YA Lit Crave)
From reading this book, I feel like I learned very much about living in a royal palace and what it's like to be a princess and the daughter of an Emperor.
Donna Tidwell Hickman
I would recommend this as a must read for anyone from young adult to adult.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 19, 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This story by Ms. Barrett is a good, but seriously flawed fictional account of the life of Anna Comnenus, a Byzantine princess during the medieval era. For those who like fiction with no connection to reality, (and the plethora of fantasy titles, sci-fi and other `historical fiction' tampering with the past on the market today, is a pretty good indication of such!) this is a noble effort, that comes very close to the real thing, but fails at the very point at which it could have made a good novel, a great one. The author's very good pacing of her storyline, her evocation of some of the elements of a Greco-Roman society, are all well executed- it is clear she is a respected writer (the American Library Association gave it awards, as did Booklist and Bulletin).

But the reality of an [Greek] Orthodox culture and the suffusing of that faith in an overtly Christian realm that endured for over 1000 years, are completely missing in Barrett's novel- as are the realities of how deeply intertwined the Christianity of the Apostles and the Greek culture's dependence on them would have more than deeply influenced not only a royal such as Princess Comnena, but the entire court, far more than Barrett envisioned.

The plot strikes me more as a `junior Lucretia Borgia' than a Byzantine monarch's first-born heir. What I mean is this: the intricacies of plotting, revenge, murder, poisoning and all the rest that were a hallmark of the Borgias- and Italian, Papal culture (including some Popes whose offices were bought and paid for by Borgia money!) are in far shorter supply in the Byzantine records, and are by and large totally foreign to an Orthodox phronema [mindset]. Not that they did not exist, mind you!
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By marared on October 9, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Anna of Byzantium tells the story of the rising and falling fortunes of Anna Comnena, a princess of the Byzantine Empire, and heir to the throne. The plot includes friendship, betrayal, power struggles, an assassination attempt, love, manipulation, and sibling rivalry, and is a fascinating glimpse into the political and family turmoil that Anna may have been caught up in.
There were a lot of things about this book that were wonderful. I really enjoyed the author taking on the challenge of writing a book about the Byzantine Empire. I don't know of any other children's or teens' authors who have used this setting, and it's a unique and interesting glimpse into life in this era. The plot twists kept me reading to see how everything would turn out.
I had very mixed feelings about the characterization, though. Some of the characters were really well drawn and elaborated, and I really appreciated the author's ability to portray the ways that both positive and negative character traits could be intertwined in the same person. On the other hand, though, there were several characters that were key to the plot but were not well characterized at all. For example, John, Anna's younger brother, appears as a pretty flat, inept, selfish, weak, and spoiled character throughout most of the book, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of nuancing of his character. At one point in the book however (won't give too much away) his behavior seems pretty strongly contradictory to this, and the historical note at the end of the book describes him in a way that seems inconsistent with both presentations of him.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Hannah on June 20, 2011
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Though Anna of Byzantium is interesting and well-written, with vivid characters and moving scenes, I do not recommend it. Almost all of the characters act from purely selfish motives, using deceit and any means possible to get their desires, so it is difficult to figure out which side is the "right" side, because neither is fully in the right.
At first it seems clear that Anna's mother is the "good guy" and her grandmother the "bad guy" but, though the grandmother clearly remains wrong, the mother tries to kill her own son and advocates other such measures. Anna herself is a somewhat complex character. As the book is written in first person from her perspective, all of her actions are hotly defended so that, as the reader, I am inclined to pity her and feel her aggrieved, but she is thoroughly selfish, arrogant, and without scruple. She harbors bitterness and hatred towards most people and seems to only sincerely care for her father. The lessons her grandmother teaches her are mainly in how to deceive and manipulate the rulers of other kingdoms to her will.
Much of the story is very sad, and evil frequently triumphs, even in the end. As the book is not historically accurate, there is no redeeming quality.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By E. A. Lovitt HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on January 7, 2008
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Anna Comnena thought she would achieve immortality as Empress of Byzantium, but when her father named her younger brother, John as his heir, she was forced to change her career plans.

This fictional biography casts light on a profoundly neglected corner of our past: the history of the Eastern Roman Empire, founded by Constantine the Great in 330 AD and finally brought to an end by the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

The heroine of this book, born in 1083 AD, was the eldest child of the Emperor Alexius I, and received an education as befitted a future empress. As a child, Anna was bethrothed to Constantine Ducas, a distant relative of her mother. When he died, she eventually married Nikephoros Bryennios and they had four children together (not in this book, though.)

Anna's paternal grandmother, Anna Dalassena was the effective administrator of the Empire during the long absences of Alexius I in war campaigns. The old woman was constantly at odds with her daughter-in-law Irene (Anna Comnena's mother) and assumed total responsibility for the upbringing and education of her granddaughter.

This book characterizes the grandmother as a ruthless, tyrannical, paranoid old woman who had a falling out with her ambitious, rather unlikeable granddaughter and caused her to be disinherited.

The `real' Anna Comnena says this of her grandmother in her "Alexiad:" "My father reserved for himself the waging of wars against the barbarians, while he entrusted to his mother the administration of state affairs, the choosing of civil servants, and the fiscal management of the empire's revenues and expenses. One might perhaps, in reading this, blame my father's decision to entrust the imperial government to the gyneceum [women's quarters].
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