The Terror of Constantinople
by Richard Blake
421pp, Hodder & Stoughton, £19.99
Buy now for £17.99 (plus £1.25 p&p) from Telegraph Books
At first, the vain, amoral and sexually voracious exiled seventh-century scholar Aelric seems purpose-built to fill a Flashman-shaped hole in wry historical fiction.
But Aelric is a killer, not a coward, surprisingly principled for a scatological cynic and incapable of exploiting virtue if only because there are no good guys in Richard Blake’s portrayal of the political rats’ nest between the fall of Rome and the supremacy of the Roman Church.
His plotting can seem off-puttingly anarchic until the penny drops that everyone is simultaneously embroiled in multiple, often conflicting, scams. Aelric’s survival among the last knockings of empire in Constantinople depends not on deducing who wants him dead, but who wants him dead at any given moment.
Vivid characters, devious plotting and buckets of gore are enhanced by his unfamiliar choice of period. Nasty, fun and educational.