Book Review: Anna of Byzantium

Anna of Byzantium by Tracy Barrett
Anna of Byzantium
by Tracy Barrett 

4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads

This historical novel tells the story of Anna Comnena, daughter of Emperor Alexius I, Princess of the Byzantine Empire in 1083 AD. Anna is in line to inherit the throne and someday rule the entire empire, until her grandmother plots against her to undermine Anna’s right to rule and establish Anna’s little brother, John, as the next emperor.

Anna is incredibly intelligent and well-educated, spending hours pouring over history books in the palace library and learning from the scholars there. She also becomes very good at seeing to the heart of people’s character, using her emotional intelligence to understand their hidden motives.

There are so many manipulative people in the palace, using their words to influence Anna and secure their own futures. Since she is surrounded by lies, Anna becomes obsessed with cherishing the truth, seeking truth in religion and philosophy, and also finding truth in her books and manuscripts. Because others use words as their weapons, Anna learns to play a strategic game with her words, using her speech as a way to protect herself and assert her dominance and power in the political games.
As far as I can tell, the story follows the basic history of the real Anna, but with some changes in the timeline, some added imaginary characters, and lots of imagined dialogue and details. The basic plotline mostly follows the real history of the time, and even the details like clothing, diet, education, customs, mannerisms, and laws are historically accurate.

I loved the captivating writing style! It really showed me Anna’s heart, and the way that the situations in the plot pulled her in many directions. When she was embarrassed, I was embarrassed for her. When she cried, I felt her pain. The writing describes her so vividly that she feels like a real person.
The writing also does a wonderful job of painting all the supporting characters in splendid colors, each person unique and full of depth.

There is also an immediacy and suspense in the writing, as we wait for Anna’s world to fall apart. The novel begins with Anna in a convent, stripped of her title and riches, and she starts to tell how it all came about, beginning with the day her baby brother John was born. So throughout the book, we already know things are going to go horribly wrong, and the suspense is how and when and who and where it will finally end. Who will eventually betray her? How will John gain the upper hand? It’s masterful storytelling that kept me on the edge of my seat!

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