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Author: Robin Raybould

Publisher: Tetrabiblion Books

ISBN: 9780615433166

Robin Raybould combines the erudition of a true classics scholar with the intrigue of a John Le Carre spy novel and the romantic tension of Gone With The Wind, sets it in the sumptuous period of the renaissance and gilds it with Byzantine glory to create an absolutely splendid historical novel.

By today’s standards the book is long but it moves along at an exciting pace and indeed leaves the reader wanting more. The plot is extremely complex but never confusing as this master craftsman maintains complete control over every twist and turn of a journey that takes us from Florence to Athens and Constantinople, palazzos and prisons, war and peace, poverty and wealth.

Eduardo Ferrucci, a young Florentine man who survives the plague that decimates the rest of his family is the hub around which the colorful wheel of characters, plots and subplots revolve. He loves books and language as much or perhaps even more than the three beautiful women who successively capture his heart. While he cares for the women, one of the tenderest scenes occurs between Eduardo and Heliogabalus, the aging curator of a library of valuable ancient texts.

“He sighed and said sadly and slowly, “And I shall know even as also I am known.” And a tear began to fall down his wrinkled cheek.

Eduardo realized he had by chance picked out a Bible and he replied, “And I, I know only in part. I look through a glass darkly as in an enigma.”

But Heliogabalus ignored him, lifted his head and said to the room at large, “and I stood upon the sand of the sea and saw a beast rise up out of the sea having seven heads and ten horns and upon his horns ten crowns and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.”

And as Eduardo looked at him with an open mouth, he continued, “and I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away and there was no more sea.”

Eduardo got up, gently removed the Bible from Heliogabalus’ grasp, resisting the temptation to put his arm around the old man and picked another book at random. This time he looked at the title which was Comedy Book II of the Poetics by Aristotle. Good, he thought, perhaps this will cheer him up. Heliogabalus again felt the book without looking at it and dried his tears with his beard.

Finally he said, still without looking at the book, “So what do you know about comedy?”

“Very little” replied Eduardo, “except that is to be contrasted with epic and lyric poetry and with tragedy. Tragedy has a sad ending, comedy a happy one.”

“On the contrary,” said Heliogabalus, his thin voice rising again, “Comedy starts happily and ends badly. Comedy is the progress of mankind from illustion to reality. Don’t you see it around us? The city is an illusion. God is playing a game with us. Fate will force reality upon us and we shall soon understand that God has abandoned us. We shall know that life has just been a comedy played for God.”

On this cynical and bitter note, he handed the books back to Eduardo.

Eduardo learns Greek and Turkish and is compelled to figure out the meaning of a cryptic message he discovers in one of the ancient Greek texts. This search for the meaning of an enticing phrase in Greek lends meaning and excitement to the journey from Italy to Constantinople that other political circumstances require him to take. The other riddle he must solve is why he was arrested for treason and who was it who set him up and betrayed him? Any one of the several threads of plot would make for compelling reading but the combination skillfully developed in tandem ups the stakes, the suspense and the ultimate satisfaction when all stories are resolved and questions answered. If you loved such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo, Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, Robert Graves’ I, Claudius, you will certainly be delighted by Scimitar.

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