Queen of Cities

Written by Andrew Nova
Review by Patricia O’Sullivan

The year is 1453, and the army of Turkish Sultan Mehmed is camped outside the walls of Constantinople while the Emperor Constantine and his Christian allies desperately try to fight back against the siege. Though each believes God to be on their side, the fate of Constantinople will be determined by the secret dealings of politicians, the skill of generals, and the bravery of common soldiers and citizens.

I have mixed feelings about this novel. Novo does an excellent job maintaining suspense, though readers may already know the outcome of the siege. Several times I found myself caught up in the hopes of the losing side. Novo also skillfully shows how fractures on the Christian side were far more damaging to Constantinople than its crumbling ancient walls. Finally, Novo’s amazing details of the weaponry and war tactics employed in the siege are impressive. In these ways Novo’s storytelling skills shine.

However, I found the constant switching of perspective unsettling, especially when many of the characters were used in just one short vignette and not throughout the entire narrative. This made it hard to care about the fate of any one character. In addition, Novo’s representation of the Christians as mostly pious and well-meaning and the Muslims as moral hypocrites driven only by political ambition, characterizations based in part on contemporary Christian accounts of the siege, felt biased. This is most clearly seen in Novo’s portrayal of Sultan Mehmed as unreasonable and sexually depraved while Emperor Constantine is conciliatory and self-sacrificing. For these reasons it felt that Novo was more interested in relating the history of Constantinople than telling a great story.