Four for a Boy

Written by Eric Mayer Mary Reed
Review by Ilysa Magnus

This fourth in the authors’ John the Eunuch series is a prequel to the other three. Set in Constantinople in 525 AD, we are thrust into the violent world of the Blues and the Greens, opposition gangs as terrorizing and senseless as anything our own society has to offer. As in all of the prior novels, what is most obvious about life in Constantinople is its uncertainty – about who is in power today, how they got there, and how long they will remain.

We meet Emperor Justin, old and dying, the predecessor to Justinian (his nephew) and Theodora, before she becomes Empress. John is a eunuch and a slave, saved early on in the story from certain execution by Justinian, who obviously sees “worthy” qualities in our protagonist. John is paired up with Felix, an excubitor, to solve the mystery of who has killed a wealthy philathropist in the front of the Great Church in broad daylight.

So the stage is set for John to prove his value to the Empire and to become, as we know he will, Justinian’s Lord Chamberlain. Naturally, the plot is filled with the typical Reed/Mayer coterie of street ruffians, political hopefuls and conspiring hypocrites, and the air is rife with the smell and feel of 6th century Constantinople. However, this installment is less cluttered with subplots and characters who add little to plot development and action. This is the best of the four John the Eunuch books so far, although I have enjoyed them all.