The Towers of Samarcand

Written by James Heneage
Review by Nancy Henshaw

Volume Two of The Mistra Chronicles, and the 14th century draws to its close at one of the most dangerous and crucial times in the recorded history of the world. The ancient walls of Byzantium, hitherto indestructible, are under threat from cannon in the hands of the Turks. Luke has lived the life of a nomad amongst the hardiest people on earth. Already a superb warrior, he returns to his comrades with all his abilities enhanced.

This tremendous book is a challenging but rewarding experience for anyone who has not read The Walls of Byzantium. Do not try and remember who everybody is; enjoy the enormous scope of the story, distances that must be covered by horses in relays, the vastness of wild scenery, beauty and danger, even the obliterating terror of sandstorm scenes. And, small but important, the sheer bloody courage of the Italian engineers: it’s great, suspenseful writing. Women play their full part throughout: mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, lovers, including Luke’s dearest love, Anna. But inevitably, the most memorable is the icy bitch, Zoe. Will she meet her match in the most powerful man, East or West? Tamerlane is a brilliant, unfathomable psychopath who occasionally may appear to be a benevolent, bespectacled grandfather; leader of the Mongol Horde, he seems to want to drown the whole world in human blood. Will he continue west or turn towards the mighty prize of China? City after city falls before Luke witnesses the ultimate horror and an overload of cruelty in the destruction of Aleppo. This hardened soldier succumbs to a trauma from which it seems impossible he will emerge. This extraordinary story deserves high praise, but readers, please start with Volume One.