While it might surprise those who follow me, I really do not like to write tough reviews or give a novel a low star rating. I’d much rather click that 5 star button and crow about a “hidden gem” of a story that I uncovered before anyone else. Sometimes, though, I pick up a novel that screams “This is my kind of book,” and it does not live up to my expectations for whatever reason. Trebizond is one of those books, unfortunately. There was no glaring reason for my apathy toward it. No single cause of my disconnect from it. Nor any misstep by the author which clicked my annoyance button. It was merely one of those instances where it left me saying “so what.”
Trebizond the story is set in the eleventh century A.D. in what historian refer to as the Byzantine Empire. Centered on the impregnable city of Constantinople (today’s Istanbul), the Byzantine Empire was the remnants of the Eastern Roman Empire, which had survived the barbarian hordes that overran the western Roman world. In reality, these people were Greeks, but when the Dark Ages enveloped Europe, they saw themselves as the bearers of the glorious Roman civilization of the past. And when our story takes place, this Romanized Greek empire is still among the greatest powers in Europe; its borders stretching from the Danube in the Balkans to small cities on the Italian Peninsula to northern Syria . But now, there has arrived from the Asian steppes a new nomadic enemy; one who will come close to destroying the Byzantine Empire for good.
NJ Holmes tells of this Turkish invasion through the eyes of three main characters: Theodore Gabras, nobleman of Trebizond, his wife Eirene, and the greatest of the Turkish warlords, Afsin. Overall, the author goes a great job showcasing each person, what they are living through, and then relating that singular experience back to the other two protagonists. Through these different viewpoints, Holmes sets out the story of the gradual destruction of the Empire by its enemies, the Turks own barbaric customs, and Gabras’ slow evolution from man of peace to savior of Trebizond and its rise as the last bastion of Byzantine power in the east.
To be fair, it was obvious that NJ Holmes thoroughly researched this historical epoch, and all the true historical facts are present more or less. At least, I did not spot any variations that were not just artistic liberties to help present an engaging story. And Trebizond was definitely infused with all the ingredients of a good story: political machinations, love triangles, testosterone infused combat, and evolution of characters due to their circumstances. But, even with the table set for a great tale, the actual storytelling failed to produce an emotional response in me. Maybe, it was because the pacing was a little on the slow side. Perhaps, it was the tendency of the author to tell me what was happening rather than show me. Or it could have been because many plot points were not realistically portrayed – at least in my opinion. And while I realize that these issues may sound minor or smack of me being too critical, I have to disagree, because there are times that too many “small” things can ruin a novel. And that is my only explanation for my reaction to this novel.
Now, I can’t deny I’m probably a bit more demanding of historical fiction. It is most likely because of my love for the subject. In college, I was an ancient history major. One of my favorite historical epochs was actually the Byzantine Empire. One of my favorite periods of Byzantine history was the rise of the three successor states of the Byzantine Empire, which included the Empire of Trebizond. Hell, some of my favorite fantasy books are Harry Turtledove’s Videssos series, which is basically a fantasy version of actual Byzantine history. And that might make me judge Trebizond more critically than is fair. But whether that is true or not, this book just wasn’t for me.
In summation, this is okay historical fiction, and it does a decent job of introducing a reader to this period of time and the peoples populating this corner of the globe. While it did not “speak” to me, it might be exactly what someone else would adore. Give it a try and see for yourself.
I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank Netgalley for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.