Review posted March 10, 2011.
Ballantine Books, New York, 2010. 518 pages.
I have enjoyed Anne Perry's Christmas mysteries, and have been meaning to read more of her work. However, I wasn't sure if I should tackle her different series at the beginning, or just dive in with her latest. So when I saw she'd written a stand-alone novel set in ancient Byzantium, I decided this would be a good time to start. I knew she is good with historical fiction, and I was not disappointed.
The book is set in thirteenth-century Constantinople. Anna Zarides has come to the city disguised as a eunuch with the goal of clearing her twin brother's name. He has been charged with the murder of a political figure and exiled to Jerusalem.
Anna stays in Constantinople for years and gets embroiled in the politics and intrigue. The whole city expects Rome and Venice to attack Constantinople as part of the next Crusade -- unless the city can compromise their religious convictions and convince Rome they are all one church.
Anna gets a patron early on in the powerful Zoe Chrysaphes, whose heart is set on vengeance. She was there when Constantinople was first overthrown and is determined to get revenge on the families of the people responsible. But Zoe also seems to be embroiled in the attack which Anna's brother was exiled for.
Anne Perry shows us Anna solving the mystery, but also gets us involved in the currents and cross-currents of the plans to attack Constantinople -- or divert the attack. We also get caught up in the story of Venetian Guiliano Dandolo, whose ancestor led the earlier attack on Venice, but whose mother was Byzantine. Anna makes friends with him, yet all the while she's holding on to the secret that she is a woman. If her masquerade is discovered, especially after she's served as physician to the Emperor, she could be executed.
The beautifully woven saga in this book will draw you in to a world far removed from our own. Anne Perry makes you feel you understand it, in all its complexity. You'll root for Anna to clear her brother's name, and even more, for Constantinople to be saved.