Review of ‘Byzantium’ (a novel)

Byzantium by Stephen Lawhead
Byzantium by Stephen Lawhead

Here’s the opening sentence of this novel:

“I saw Byzantium in a dream, and I knew that I would die there.”

Puts the reader in a certain frame of mind, doesn’t it?

Byzantium tells the story of Aidan, an Irish monk. Together with his companions, he sets out on a pilgrimage to the eponymous city. From the moment Aidan leaves Irish soil, his life suffers an acute shortage of dull moments. In quick succession, there’s a violent storm at sea, a pirate attack, a shipwreck and another pirate attack. The monks are separated and Aidan is taken captive.

He is enslaved (multiple times), learns to speak the language of the Vikings and that of the Saracens, learns to like foreign food, gets himself entangled in imperial court intrigue, survives a battle in the desert, serves as a slave in a silver mine, gets engaged to marry an Arab noblewoman, survives a battle at sea… It is no wonder that he also suffered a crisis of faith, concluding that God had abandoned him.

What I didn’t like. The cast of characters was very long. In order to keep them straight, I made a list which had 51 names by the time I was through. I wish Lawhead hadn’t given inconsequential characters the dignity of a name and occupation. For example, of the 27 Irish and British characters on my list, at least 15 did little to nothing in terms of plot development.

What I don’t know if I like or not. Only when I’d reached the end of the book did I realise that most of the characters who started out as baddies turned out to be really nice people and some of those who were neutral when first introduced ended up as nefarious villains.

Conclusion. A most enjoyable story! No doubt Mr. Lawhead did tonnes of research, which wasn’t wasted on this reader. Towards the end, there was a presentation of the Christian message which thankfully was neither heavy-handed nor shoehorned into the plot.

What of Aidan’s dying in Byzantium? you ask. I had to wait until page 870 to find out; I shan’t be divulging that here 🙂

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