The Curse of Babylon

Written by Richard Blake
Review by Martin Bourne

This is another adventure of Brother Aelric, a monk in England who was once the Lord Aelric, a senior official in the eastern (Byzantine) Roman Empire. Unlike previous instalments, this one is told almost completely in flashback, a wise decision, as it is a very physical tale, with large amounts of fighting, fornication, leaping from rooftops and other forms of derring-do.

This time Lord Aelric is attempting an essential land reform program for the Empire, which inevitably brings him into conflict with established interests. While attempting to fend off political moves to inflame the mob and influence the indecisive emperor Heraclius against him, he also has to deal with Persian intrigue. A war between the two empires has been going on for some time, and the Romans are losing. A Persian ship is loose in Byzantine home waters, containing an old adversary, Shahin, who is making extraordinary efforts to retrieve a magical artifact called the horn of Babylon that has come into Aelric’s possession. Finally he becomes entangled with a woman called Antonia, who has disguised herself as a man so she can pursue a career as a petitioner, but is certainly more than what she appears to be. A Byzantine adventure indeed!

Aelric is a trendy anti-hero, although his ruthlessness and cynicism are less evident in his earlier life. There is still a lot of material that is frankly very demeaning to human dignity, but if you can put aside the occasional descriptions of perverse sexual practices and also that the mighty lord Aelric does a lot of footwork that really would have been done by underlings, this is a very exciting and intriguing story with lots of twists and turns.