Three for a Letter

Written by Eric Mayer Mary Reed
Review by Ilysa Magnus

It is 539 A.D. An eight-year-old boy who is being held as a diplomatic hostage by Emperor Justinian and his wife, the treacherous Theodora, is murdered. The boy is not merely a political prisoner; he is one of a pair of twins descended from the last Ostrogoth king, in the direct line of succession, and consequently a threat to Justinian. The Emperor, however, has larger plans in mind. He is about to reconquer Italy and restore the glory of Rome.

But Theodora’s fun has been disturbed. When the boy is killed, her favorite mime, Barnabas, vanishes. She orders John the Eunuch, Lord Chamberlain to Justinian, to find both Barnabas and the murderer. Theodora, ever hopeful that John will fail so that she can eliminate him, thrusts John and his friends into complex intrigues that baffle them almost to distraction.

The John the Eunuch series is full of the taste and feel of the sixth century Roman Empire. John’s personality is developing with every installment, and the more I know him, the better I like him. Sometimes, though, there are too many subplots. Complications pile upon complications. Minor characters sometimes blend into other characters. I often wish the story line were a bit less complex; I like these characters too much to lose them in the fray.