Saturday, February 14, 2009

The High City-Cecelia Holland

The High City
Cecelia Holland
Forge, Feb 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 9780765305596

Late in the tenth century, with his beloved cousin Conn dead lying in a cave under Kiev, Raef Corbansson feels survivor guilt and isolation. He knows his cousin who was his best friend and who saved his worthless life. Raef feels that was such a waste as he should have died not Conn (see VARANGER). Raef becomes a rower on a ship where no one seems to speak the same language. They shipwreck near Chrysopolis with his crewmates captured by an invading army. Raef rescues his oarmate and helps save the Armada loyal to Byzantine Emperor Basil under the command of Michael Lecapenus win the battle.

Raef and the victors travel to Constantinople to celebrate, but he cannot as Conn and the magic inside him both haunt him. Emperor Basil is irate when Raef refuses to join his army and pledge dying loyalty to him especially his refusal to track down and bring home in chains if necessary the runaway Empress Helena who has joined the enemy; he soon faces a treason charge. Lecapenus and Laissa the whore help his escape from an emperor, a city and an empire he sees as corrupt.

The superb fifth Dark Ages Viking saga (see VARANGER and Conn’s father’s escapades in THE SERPENT DREAMER, THE SOUL THIEF and THE WITCHES' KITCHEN) is an exhilarating historical thriller that continues the adventures of the survivor of the second generation. This time much of the novel rotates between an anguished yet heroic Raef with no time to grieve and the absolute demanding Basil. Fascinatingly, Raef’s saving the armada becomes yesterday’s news as the Emperor demands what you will be doing for me immediately. Fans of the tenth century saga of a traveling Irish barbarian will fully relish this direct sequel to VARANGER; newcomers will better appreciate Raef’s anguish if they read the previous entry first.

Harriet Klausner

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