Imperial Passions: The Porta Aurea

Written by Eileen Stephenson
Review by Anna Belfrage

The Byzantine Empire of the 11th century is something of a political maze, a complicated, twisting thing where various families vie for power. All of this is deliciously brought to life by Ms Stephenson. Her passion for the Byzantine period is apparent throughout the book, be it in the elegantly presented descriptions of furnishings, clothing, traditions, food or in the somewhat more morbid scenes where men are permanently blinded. This is a world where ambition and ruthlessness can lead you right to the top—or crush the life out of you. It is a world in which the wise man (and woman) watches her step, each move as carefully considered as when one is playing chess with a master.

Despite her youth, Anna Dalassena excels at chess. Ms Stephenson presents us with a vibrant character, a strong-willed and accomplished young woman who, to Ms Stephenson’s credit, still lives within the constraints imposed on the women of her time. It is therefore fortunate for Anna that her future husband, the equally engaging John Comnenus, recognises her strengths—and is willing to embrace them.

One book does not suffice to tell the fascinating story of Anna Dalassena, one of the more intriguing medieval ladies around. Ms Stephenson ends her narrative while there is still a lot of life ahead of Anna. I hope she will be kind enough to furnish us with a sequel as well-written and researched as Imperial Passions is!