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by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer
Poisoned Pen Press, June 2000
345 pages
ISBN: 189020837X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The second book in the John the Eunuch series, set in Constantinople during the tme of the Emperor Justinian, is even more engrossing than One for Sorrow. Christianity is the state religion, but there are many heresies which try Justinian's patience. A holy man named Michael, has written demanding to have an audience with the Emperor in order to prove that his version of the religion is the correct one and that everyone else is going to hell, much as the fundamentalists do today. There are men, called Stylites, all over Constantinople, living on top of columns and preaching other variants to their worshippers. All very byzantine.

John is out in the rain searching for his house guest, his old tutor, Philo, when all over Constantinople, some of the stylites burst into flame. Michael,who believes in a quadripartite Christ rather than a tripartite one, has predicted that 4 heretics will die by fire, but only 3 have done so, and despite Michael's insistence that they burn from the inside out, it is discovered that the fire did not come from within.

Anatolius, friend to John, and son of Aurelius, a senator, is a bit of a mischief maker, but he vows to host a party for his father that will not shame the family. He hires Isis, madame of the best little house in Constantinople and some of her girls to act as the muses. While declaiming poetry near the fountain, one of the entertainers bursts into flame and dies. Darius, the giant guard who works for Isis is inconsolable because he was supposed to be guarding the girls. During all the commotion, Aurelius is found dead in his study, poisoned, and Anatolius ends up in jail.

The clever meshing of the fictional story of John the Eunuch and his friends and the true tales of the insanity of the days when Christianity was beginning to take over the known world makes for a very powerful book. The scenes in the streets of the ancient city are vivid. The Sea aflame is an image that is especially memorable. Reed and Mayer have done their research, and it shows in a story that flows faultlessly to a surprising conclusion.

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, October 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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