When a mysterious assassin looses his arrow at the Emperor, he has more than a man in his sights; the keystone of a crumbling empire, the Emperor is the solitary figure holding its enemies in check. If he falls, then the mightiest power in Christendom will be torn apart. Aware of the stakes, the Emperor hires Demetrios Askiates, the unveiler of mysteries, to catch the would-be-killer.
But Demetrios is entering an unknown and mysterious world, a bubbling cauldron of princes, slaves, mercenaries, pimps and eunuchs. From the depths of the slums to the golden towers of the palace, and from the sands of the hippodrome to the soaring domes of Ayia Sophia, he must edge his way through a glittering maze of treachery and deceit before time runs out. Nor are all enemies within the city walls. With the Turks rampant across Asia, the Emperor has sent to the west for mercenaries to reinforce his position.
He gets more than he bargained for, however, when a great army, tens of thousands strong, appear before the gates. The first crusaders have arrived, intent on making their fortunes in war, and they have no allegiance to an empire they eye with jealousy and suspicion. As the armies of east and west confront each other, and the assassin creeps ever closer to his prey, Demetrios must untangle the golden web of intrigue which surrounds the Emperor before the city - and the empire - are drowned in blood.
A gripping historical epic that transports the reader back to an eventful and exhilarating era: the violence and intrigue of the Middle Ages.
British author Harper effortlessly draws the reader into the court intrigues and conspiracies of 11th-century Byzantium in his outstanding debut. Former bounty hunter and bodyguard Demetrios the Apokalyptor (who will remind many of Steven Saylor's ancient Roman sleuth, Gordianus the Finder) is summoned to Emperor Alexios's palace after a mysterious assassin narrowly misses killing the ruler with an arrowlike weapon that managed to pierce a guard's armor. The emperor's chamberlain, Krysaphios, hires Demetrios to identify the murderer, as well as the forces behind him. The quest is imbued with greater urgency as the residents of the empire's capital nervously anticipate the arrival of a large barbarian army, ostensible allies who may be connected with the attempted regicide. Nicely balancing action and deduction, Harper creates both a credible hero and supporting characters. While the final plot twist is plausible, there may not be enough shock value for veteran whodunit readers. But fans of well-written, meticulously researched historicals should embrace this promising new talent.