Anna of Byzantium

Anna of Byzantium

4.8 42
by Tracy Barrett, Anna Comnena, Anna Comnena

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Educated, literate, intelligent, she is destined to be the empress of the Byzantine Empire-until a son is born to her father, the emperor, and her own arrogance alienates her manipulative grandmother. Consequently, Anna Commena finds her future profoundly altered in a power struggle over the succession. Exiled from the court to a distant convent after a failed attempt…  See more details below


Educated, literate, intelligent, she is destined to be the empress of the Byzantine Empire-until a son is born to her father, the emperor, and her own arrogance alienates her manipulative grandmother. Consequently, Anna Commena finds her future profoundly altered in a power struggle over the succession. Exiled from the court to a distant convent after a failed attempt at fratricide, she finds a way to continue The Alexiad, the eleven-volume epic story of her father's life. As the author's note informs us, this work is the principal source of information about Byzantium in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries. The note also indicates which facts have been altered for the sake of the story line, but the general theme-that of the consequences of pride and unrestrained power-is skillfully handled. The character of Anna, revealed in a first-person narration, is more than one-dimensional; the politics of the era are, well, Byzantine. A coming-of-age story set in an exotic time and place, the book is a fascinating mix of history, mystery, and intrigue.

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Editorial Reviews

Ilene Cooper
In the tradition of E.L. Konigsburg's A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver (1973) and Karen Cushman's Catherine, Called Birdy (1994) comes this story of a real-life historical figure, Anna Comnena, groomed to be the sovereign of the Byzantine empire. But events intervene, and the birth of a baby brother is just as bad as the invasion of barbarians. Barrett uses an effective first-person narrative to draw readers into Anna's story, and the author's precise use of detail helps re-create Anna's world, the palace of Constantinople in the ninth century. The story is told in flashback; Anna has already been exiled to a convent by her brother for trying to overthrow him. Readers will be caught up in Anna's evolution as she moves from loving child and heir of the emperor to pawn in her grandmother's plan to continue as the power behind the throne to discarded princess, stripped of all she holds dear, especially her future. The author's note at the end is informative, but it also raises several questions, including why Anna's brother, depicted as nasty and spiteful in the book, became one of the empire's most beloved emperors. The Byzantine empire is often neglected in studies of the Middle Ages. This exciting read--with a particularly enticing cover--will help change that oversight. -- Booklist
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This uneven first novel is narrated by Anna, the first-born daughter of the Emperor of Byzantium, poised to inherit the throne. Inspired by the real Anna Comnena (1083-1153) who chronicled her father's reign in The Alexiad, the story begins in a convent, where 17-year-old Anna lives in exile. Most of the book flashes back to the princess's upbringing and her attempt on her brother John's life that led to her monastic imprisonment. Although the author successfully evokes an aura of claustrophobia within the castle and convent, she provides few details to distinguish one setting from another. The scenes in the throne room involving visiting dignitaries or soldiers do little to illustrate the pageantry or politics of the age, and the main characters lack definition--with the exception of the Machiavellian grandmother. Anna herself, with her education in history, classics and science, may reverse any preconceived assumptions about the ignorance and lowly position of women in the Middle Ages, but her character as portrayed here is not likable until the book's conclusion. Readers may not stay around long enough to witness her humbling fall from power and transition to scholar. Ages 10-up. (June) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
"I had never seen the dungeons before but they were as I had always pictured them...I supposed my mother was somewhere in the dungeon too, for whoever had betrayed me must have known she was involved as well." Step back in time to the 11th century and view the Byzantine Empire through the eyes of Anna Comnena. Anna is born into a royal family of the Byzantine Empire. Being successor to the throne brings many duties and responsibilities to young Anna, including being educated. Anna is groomed for the role as princess by her grandmother and Simon, her tutor. However, as Anna grows into womanhood, her younger brother John and her grandmother lose patience with Anna's newfound spirit. In an unbelievable set of circumstances, Anna's idyllic world takes a dramatic turn. As Anna waits for the opportunity to avenge herself, her world takes yet another dramatic turn. Barrett successfully transports the reader to another time in history and holds the reader with a tale of history, mystery and intrigue. 1999, Dell Laurel-Leaf, $4.50. Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Rita Karr
To quote from the hardcover review in KLIATT, July 1999: Barrett teaches at Vanderbilt University and is interested in women in the Middle Ages who were writers: thus, her interest in Anna Comnena. For this novel, she has taken some basic facts, compressed some of the action for dramatic effect, and created a portrait of this Byzantine princess who was so well educated and such a talented writer. "Byzantine" has come to mean, in our English vocabulary, a description of something that is intricate, complicated, devious, and full of intrigue. (I take that from Funk & Wagnall's Dictionary.) That works for a description of Anna's life as well: she was a pawn in an intrigue between her grandmother and her mother. She had been promised to be the next Empress, but as a teenager, this was taken away from her; instead, her younger brother became the Emperor when her father died. This intrigue is the basis of this novel. The action begins as a seventeen-year-old Anna is exiled to a distant nunnery, put there as punishment when the plot to murder her brother fails. Can we like such a heroine? Barrett produces a character study of an intelligent, selfish, vengeful girl—taught to seek and hold power from an early age. The reader will be somewhat awed by this princess, who lives in a most exotic place and time, and only toward the end of the story will the reader be able to see Anna in a sympathetic light. In fact, Anna's life was a full one. After the abortive assassination attempt she married another historian, had four children, wrote her famous history of her father, and died at the age of 70. Certainly Anna Comnena is an important part of the history of women. (Editor's note:This book is an ALA Best Book for YAs.) KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 1999, Dell/Laurel-Leaf, 209p, map, 18cm, $4.50. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; November 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 6)
School Library Journal
Gr 6-10-The 11th-century Byzantine princess Anna Comnena was a remarkable woman. Designated as a child to inherit the throne, she was educated to be a ruler. She learned, from her mother and grandmother, to manipulate the intrigues and factions of the court, and when she was displaced as heir by her brother, she schemed, without success, to assassinate him and regain her position. In this novel, Anna tells her own story, looking back on her former life from the convent to which she has been banished. The first-person device serves well to focus the action on the princess and to build a plausible character study of a brilliant and tempestuous young woman frustrated and embittered by the loss of her expectations of achieving supreme power. However, the book exemplifies the difficulty of writing a historical novel about a real person. Anna's brother is depicted throughout as a spoiled monster who (in contrast to the brilliant Anna) refuses to learn to read. Yet historians characterize John's rule as one of personal virtue and administrative competence and tell that he forgave his sister for her many conspiracies against him. Barrett acknowledges in an afterword that she "changed some of the facts," but, unfortunately, it is the story she spins that will remain with young readers. Still, few books, with the notable exception of Peter Dickinson's The Dancing Bear (Little, Brown, 1972; o.p.), have as their backdrop the colorful and historically significant Byzantine Empire.-Shirley Wilton, Ocean County College, Toms River, NJ Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Loosely based on the early life of Anna Comnena, a Byzantine princess and scholar born in the 11th century, this debut succeeds neither in creating coherent character portraits, nor in illuminating its epoch. Designated successor to the throne, Anna has grown up in a cloistered court dominated by the rivalry between her gentle mother and crafty, unscrupulous grandmother. Jealous, ambitious, proud of her aptitude for study, Anna is an unappealing narrator who, despite years of her grandmother's tutelage in statecraft, is outclassed in intrigue at every turn by her spiteful, sneaky younger brother, John; ultimately, through her own naïveté, she loses her right to succeed her father, then compounds the disaster with an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate John. Off she is sent, to spend the rest of her life in a remote convent. Barrett supplies too light a dusting of detail to give her picture of the court of Byzantium much flavor, and larger events (Anna is remembered chiefly today for her account of her father's reign and the First Crusade) take place offstage. Furthermore, characters act in arbitrary ways, so that when Anna performs a selflessly kind act, it comes out of nowhere, as does John's sudden transformation, when he takes the throne, from malicious brat to the most benevolent and beloved of all the Byzantine emperors. Anna Comnena makes a promising protagonist, but in historical and emotional depth this falls short of other medieval tales, such as Nancy Garden's Dove And Sword (1995). (Fiction. 11-13)

From the Publisher
A Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book
An ALA Quick Pick
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
A Booklist Editor's Choice
A Booklist Top Ten Historical Fiction Pick

[STAR] "[Anna of Byzantium] involves readers in a gripping saga of alliances, intrigues, deceits, and treacheries worthy of a place among the tragic myths." — The Bulletin, Starred review

"In the tradition of E. L. Konigsburg's A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver and Karen Cushman's Catherine, Called Birdy comes this story of a real-life historical figure, Anna Commena, groomed to be the sovereign of the Byzantine empire…Barrett uses an effective first-person narrative to draw readers into Anna's story, and the author's precise use of detail helps re-create Anna's world, the palace of Constantinople in the ninth century. . . Readers will be caught up in…this exciting read."—Booklist, Boxed review

"A fascinating mix of history, mystery, and intrigue."-The Horn Book Magazine

"Barrett does a remarkable job of painting moods and emotions with spare, elegant sentences. . . This splendid novel about a neglected period of history is the perfect choice. . . Hard to imagine it being any better written." —VOYA

"This wonderfully engaging novel both entertains and serves as a lively history lesson with its well-researched background, dramatic plot and dimensional characters. Barrett's descriptive, engaging prose will draw readers into a fascinating historical time, filled with political intrigue and a complex, admirable teen protagonist who faces her changing future with an inspiring combination of heart and mind."— Wichita Eagle

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.82(w) x 8.64(h) x 0.80(d)
910L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Tracy Barrett is the author of numerous books and magazine articles for young readers. She holds a Bachelor's Degree with honors in Classics-Archaeology from Brown University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval Italian Literature from the University of California, Berkeley. Her scholarly interests in the ancient and medieval worlds overlap in her fiction and nonfiction works.
    A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to study medieval women writers led to the writing of her first novel, the award-winning Anna of Byzantium. Since then, she has also written The Stepsister's Tale, Dark of the Moon, King of Ithaka, and The Sherlock Files series.

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Anna of Byzantium 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 42 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For any fans of Meyer's 'Mary, Bloody Mary,' this is the Byzantium version of it, with the eldest daughter of the ruler going from beloved daughter and intended heir to disgraced princess watching helplessly as her younger sibling replaces her! A riveting, intensely emotional book, it brings tears to your eyes to read about her tragic and frustrating fall from grace and power, and the forlorn dashing of all her hopes and dreams in the end. And in contrast to the reviews, I found Anna to be a sympathetic character from the very beginning--from the time I first read the description of the book. The characters, especially Anna, are also wonderful and well defined, except for a few minor ones who did not appear much. The only problem is that in making Anna seem so sympathetic, the author manipulated her younger brother's character to seem vile, spoiled, spiteful, and just plain evil, with making him seem possibly okay only in the very end. But according to history, her brother was a wise and kind ruler, perhaps one of the best Byzantium rulers ever. So perhaps the author manipulated history a bit too much. But still, as a story in itself, it is exceptional.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anna of Byzantium is a great novel!!! We were reading medieval novels in school and I didn't think I would enjoy any of the novels on the list, but that changed when I started reading this book. Anna Comnena is a princess. She is also her father's first born and is his chosen succesor which means she is to rule the Byzantine Empire after him. The barbarians who think it is strange to have a female ruler don't bother her at all, nor does the birth of her baby brother. Anna's father's advisor, his manipulative mother, starts giving Anna lessons. As Anna matures into a young lady, her intellagence threatens her grandmother. So her grandmother moves on to Anna's younger brother, John, and trys to convince Anna's father that John is better suited to rule. Almost overnight, Anna sees her chances of becoming a ruler wrenched away by her evil brother and grandmother. Bitter and wanting revenge, Anna waits for the right moment to seek what is rightfully hers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author managed a good deal of emotion for the reader. Throughout the novel, I despised the young John more and more, as did Anna. I was furious when she lost her crown, all through the scheming of her 'wicked' grandmother. Surprisingly, I felt that the ending was excellent, though it was not what I had originally predicted. I would recommend this more to teen girls than boys, as it was narrated by a girl, and I think they would appreciate it more. It is also a good introduction to the people and rulers of the Byzantine Empire, as I had never really been interested in it previously. I loved it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a very good book, well written. I felt very sorry for Anna in the end. Her brother was a total brat, and she lost her crown to him. I REALLY hated him. Super Slime! The book was very good though, and i would reccomend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love this book!!!!
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I loved this book!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutley loved this book! I finished it in 4 days and fell in love with it from the start! I had to read this for my 8th grade reading projet and I hope to get an A on it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was absolutely amazing! Kudos Ms. Barrett! I fell in love with the depth, the emotions, the detail, the history, and the thrills of this novel. It's a beautiful story and I was amazed at how easily my feelings were affected by the characters actions and what happened. The ending is perfect and it is the best story about a woman who became a legend because of her brilliant mind and knowledge. Do no pass up on this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is full of feeling,humor, and gilt. This book is the best book I have ever read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a look into the life of Princess Anna Comnena, and although you feel kind of bad that she lost her throne, it's hard to feel completally sorry because she was a arrogant and spoiled Princess. Even though it's hard at times to symphasize with her, it's a good book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The ending was great and I loved the descriptions... I enjoyed learning more of the Byzantine history!
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was an amazing retelling of the story, i enjoyed reading it again and again! it also helped me in my world history class. people of al ages can relate to her.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When most people think of the Roman Empire, they associate it with being thousands of years ago with lions eating Christians and gladiators. The roman empire lasted up in to the middle ages,or at least the western half called Byzantium. This book tells the story of Anna, The Daughter of the Byzantine Emperor and the hardships she faces. It was great.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book,it is extremely well written.You want to laugh,cry,and scream when she does,you feel her pain her joy when she does.You want to comfort her when she is in sorrow you want to defend her when she can't stand up for herself.You see her future that she used to hold in her own hands suddenly taken away by her cruel brother and manipulative grandmother.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A very good book that I would recomend to all. It kept me reading! One of the best historical fiction books out there I'm sure. It made me want to read the 'Alexiad.' I don't know how historically acurate it was but still worth reading!