If you enjoy historical fiction, pick up a copy of Tracy Barrett’s Anna of Byzantium. Ms. Barrett is primarily a writer of non-fiction, but she delivers a solid, fictionalized account of Anna Comnena, daughter of the Byzantine Emperor. Her writing is smooth, logical, and easy to follow.
Set in the time of the Crusades, young Anna has been named heiress to her father’s throne despite the birth of her younger brother. But when her grandmother–the real power behind the crown–realizes Anna will never allow herself to be manipulate, she connives to have her grandson declared heir instead. Anna loses everything: her empire, her future husband, and her father’s respect. But Anna is patient…
Ms. Barrett has developed a cast of strong characters, especially Anna and the two sharply-contrasting women who vie for the Emperor’s ear–his wife and his mother. The plot moves along quickly, with plenty of action and intrigue, and the plot is beautifully enriched with metaphor. For example, the ongoing battle of wits between Anna and her grandmother is effectively portrayed as a chess game. And Simon, Anna’s cautious tutor, compares Anna’s schemes to the deeds of mythological and historical characters, especially Icarus, whose wings melted when he disobeyed his father. “Don’t fly too close to the sun, Little Beetle,” he tells her.
Ms. Barrett’s one drawback is a lack of artistry. Her story, while meaty and well-written, reads like a non-fiction account. Without the sensory details that make a setting come alive, I never experienced the world in which Anna lived. Also absent are the creative word pictures and lyrical prose that make language beautiful. Ms. Barrett simply doesn’t display a magic touch.
Even so, Anna of Byzantium is engaging and powerful and well worth a read. Ages 10+