Gang-plagued streets, politicians plotting each other's downfall, poverty and homelessness existing side-by-side with manifest wealth--no, this isnt modern-day Washington, D.C., but rather 6th-century Constantinople, as portrayed by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer in Four for a Boy
. A prequel to their three previous novels featuring John the Eunuch, Lord Chamberlain to Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, this nimble and scrupulously plotted tale finds John still a mercenary-turned-slave in the palace of Justinian's predecessor, Justin I. He hardly seems the right man to take on a "defense of the empire." Yet after a philanthropist is murdered in the city's Great Church, where hed gone to visit a controversial statue of Christ, John is assigned, along with a German palace guard (and fellow pagan), to ferret out the killer and maybe also to act the role of spy in a web of rivalries involving the current and future emperors, as well as an imperious city prefect--"the Gourd"--with a misshapen head and supposedly magical powers. Not until a marble importer is slain does a solution to these odd crimes emerge.
Reed and Mayer excel at crafting royal intrigues, especially the plot by Justinians mendacious lover, Theodora, to wrest control of the former Eastern Roman Empire from Justin, whose senescence has him parlaying at length with his dead wife. They are clever, too, in creating action sequences (such as one in which John tries to "fly" from pursuers on Icarus-like wings) that fit their historical setting. It's only too bad that the authors dont do more in this prequel to fill in Johns backstory, and that they force him to spend most of his time here in an annoying pique, his violent castration and lowly position frustrating his desire to return the affections of a senator's daughter. --J. Kingston Pierce
From Publishers Weekly
In this captivating prequel set in sixth-century Constantinople, the fourth in Reed and Mayer's well-received historical series (Three for a Letter, etc.), the future emperor Justinian asks a young slave named John the Eunuch to investigate the murder of philanthropist Hypatius, struck down while examining the controversial Christ statue he and three others have given to the city's Great Church. Discounting rumors of a political plot, John undertakes a search for the truth that will lead him from opulent palace to squalid hospice, and to meetings with such memorable characters as the nave Lady Anna and the quirky Avis, who lives in a virtual aviary and is convinced he will fly someday. Written with humor and pathos, this superior historical is sure to please existing fans and send new ones in search of the rest of the series.
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