Reviewed by Lauren Cannavino
Eileen Stephenson captures three tales of Byzantium history in a concise, yet powerful and rich format. Each story is full of action, passion, history and intrigue. The short story collection may be slim, but each journey is ripe with history and focuses on a different area/person from the time of the Byzantine Empire. Stephenson writes eloquently and is able to fill the stories with rich, flowing dialogue and historical facts that make the reader surprised to find out that they have reached the end of the book. Stephenson also ends each story with a historical recap on the main characters that the story focused on, as well as what was happening politically and socially at that point in time during the Byzantine rule. For readers who may be unfamiliar with this period of time, Tales of Byzantium is a quick way to get acquainted and interested.
The novel starts strongly with the tale of Constantine, his young wife Helena and how the couple was kept apart and how they found their love. Helena is strong and enchanting, while Constantine quietly grows into the Emperor he is to become through, art, learning, observation and intellect. This story in itself could have been expanded to be a standalone novel because it was so nicely written, with vibrant, interesting characters. The second story focuses more on the military side of the Empire, discussing battles and the rise of Comnenus. Normally heavy war focused stories are easy to lose interest in for me but this story moved so quickly through the beautifully detailed scenes and had such strong character development that this was not an issue. The third story was more on pace with the first, focusing on the power hungry Anna Comnena, author of The Alexiad. The historical notes and continuation of each story beyond the fiction truly adds to Tales of Byzantium; the book is a beautiful blend of fact and fiction.
Author Eileen Stephenson has the writing skills necessary to keep historical fiction fresh, especially about a time in history such as this where there is little information and few people seem to really know much about it. If there are no plans to expand Tales of Byzantium or add a volume, there really should be, because of not only the interesting content, but also because of how cleanly Stephenson was able to make the history jump of the page.
Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.wordpress.com.
Review copy was provided by Eileen Stephenson. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.