4.7 47
by Stephen R. Lawhead

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Born to rule

Although born to rule, Aidan lives as a scribe in a remote Irish monastery on the far, wild edge of Christendom. Secure in work, contemplation, and dreams of the wider world, a miracle bursts into Aidan's quiet life. He is chosen to accompany a small band of monks on a quest to the farthest eastern reaches of the known world, to the fabled city

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Born to rule

Although born to rule, Aidan lives as a scribe in a remote Irish monastery on the far, wild edge of Christendom. Secure in work, contemplation, and dreams of the wider world, a miracle bursts into Aidan's quiet life. He is chosen to accompany a small band of monks on a quest to the farthest eastern reaches of the known world, to the fabled city of Byzantium, where they are to present a beautiful and costly hand-illuminated manuscript, the Book of Kells, to the Emperor of all Christendom.

Thus begins an expedition by sea and over land, as Aidan becomes, by turns, a warrior and a sailor, a slave and a spy, a Viking and a Saracen, and finally, a man. He sees more of the world than most men of his time, becoming an ambassador to kings and an intimate of Byzantium's fabled Golden Court. And finally this valiant Irish monk faces the greatest trial that can confront any man in any age: commanding his own Destiny.

Editorial Reviews

Here, in the story of a great gift and an even greater journey, is summoned all the magic and splendor, the brutality and the innocence of a lost era — the not-so-Dark Age when faith ruled men's hearts.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The bestselling author of the Pendragon Cycle now tells the story of Aidan, a 10th-century Irish monk sent to take the Book of Kells to the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople. Separated from his fellow pilgrims, Aidan undergoes various exotic adventures, including capture by and life with Vikings, political intrigue in the Byzantine court, enslavement in a caliph's mine and loss of his all-important faith in God. Lawhead is a Christian writer, and here the Christian themes are integral and well developed; he also shows a keen and sympathetic eye for the values and cultures of non-Christians. Marketed as fantasy, the novel contains little overt supernatural content, although prayer is vital and dreams can be seen as omens. Still, the narrative has the excitement of a good fantasy novel, a vivid historical setting and a lengthy, credible and satisfying plotjust the elements, in fact, that have made Lawhead a commercial success time and again. (Sept.)
VOYA - Meg Wilson
Byzantium is the epic tale of Saint Aidan mac Cainnech, an Irish monk who adventures, in 900 A. D., throughout what is now Great Britain, Europe and the Middle East. The characters are many; the story is complex, intriguing, and at times, confusing. The reader who pledges to stick with the book, despite its length and unfamiliar vocabulary, will be rewarded with a fascinating, exciting trek through time, led by an engaging, believable protagonist. Lawhead, whose Pendragon Cycle of Taliesin (Avon, 1987), Merlin (1988), Arthur (1989), and Pendragon (1994) claimed the attention of YA Arthurian devotees despite its length, may not fare so well with the lesser known Saint Aidan, whose compelling story continues for nearly 650 pages. For those readers with a special interest in the period, and for especially determined young adult readers, Byzantium will be a treasure. However, it probably belongs in the adult section, and on lists of adult books for YAs. VOYA Codes: 4Q 2P S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, For the YA with a special interest in the subject, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
Kirkus Reviews
A new venture from the author of the Pendragon Cycle (The Endless Knot, 1993, etc.), though here the fantasy elements—ghosts, angels, some prophetic dreams—are all but imperceptible. In the tenth century, the Irish monks of Kells have prepared a magnificent illuminated manuscript, its cover splendid with silver and jewels. This Book of Kells will be presented to the Holy Roman Emperor at Byzantium. One of the monks chosen to accompany the gift is pious young Aidan mac Cainnech, who dreams of the Emperor's fabled city and foresees his death there. Off Brittany, however, the monks' boat is sunk by Vikings, and Aidan is carried off to be a slave to the warrior Gunnar in distant Sweden. Through his learning, piety, and quick wits, Aidan catches the attention of the Danish King, Harald Bull-Roar, who nurses grandiose plans to sail south and east to sack Byzantium. But when Harald and his small fleet finally reach the huge, opulent, powerful city, he realizes the impossibility of his ambitions, and only Aidan's knowledge of Latin and Greek keeps the warriors out of trouble. After a dispute with a city official, Harald and Aidan come before the Holy Roman Emperor, Basil, who not only agrees to the justice of their claim, but hires the Danes to protect a diplomatic mission to Trebizond, where Basil hopes to conclude a treaty with the Arabs. And in agreeing to become the emperor's spy, Aidan will lose, then eventually regain, his faith, and experiences betrayal, further enslavement, a reunion with friends long thought dead, intrigues, a return to Sweden, and a final spiritual triumph.

Far-fetched but often engrossing, with plenty of plot twists despite Lawhead's sometimes shaky grip on the details: Worthwhile for Lawhead regulars and historical-fantasy fans alike.

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Chapter One

I saw Byzantium in a dream, and knew that I would die there. That vast city seemed to me a living thing: a great golden lion, or a crested serpent coiled upon a rock, beautiful and deadly. With trembling steps I walked alone to embrace the beast, fear turning my bones to water. I heard no sound save the beating of my own heart and the slow, hissing breath of the creature. As I drew near, the half-lidded eye opened, and the beast awoke. The fearful head rose; the mouth gaped open. A sound like the howl of wind across a winter sky tore the heavens and shook the earth, and a blast of foul breath struck me, withering the very flesh.

I stumbled on, gagging, gasping, unable to resist; for I was compelled by a force beyond my power. I watched in horror as the terrible beast roared. The head swung up and swiftly, swiftly down—like lightning, like the plunge of an eagle upon its prey. I felt the dread jaws close on me as I stood screaming.

Then I awoke; but my waking brought neither joy nor relief. For I rose not to life, but to the terrible certainty of death. I was to die, and the golden towers of Byzantium would be my tomb.

And yet, before the dream—some time before it—I had gazed upon a very different prospect. Such rich opportunity does not come to every man, and I considered myself blessed beyond measure by my good fortune. How not? It was an honour rare to one so young, and well I knew it. Not that I could easily forget, for I was reminded at every turn by my brother monks, many of whom regarded me with ill-disguised envy. Of the younger priests, I was considered the most able and learned, and thereforemost likely to attain the honour we all sought.

The dream, however, poisoned my happiness; I knew my life would end in agony and fear. This the dream had shown me, and I was not fool enough to doubt it. I knew—with the confidence of fire-tested conviction—that what I dreamed would be. Sure, I am one of those wretched souls who see the future in dreams, and my dreams are never wrong.

Word of the bishop's plan had reached us just after the Christ Mass. "Eleven monks will be selected," Abbot Fraoch informed us that night at table. "Five monks from Hy, and three each from Lindisfarne and Cenannus." The selection, he said, must be made before Eastertide.

Then our good abb spread his arms to include all gathered in the refectory. "Brothers, it is God's pleasure to honour us in this way. Above all else, let us put aside jealousy and prideful contention, and let each one seek the Holy King's direction in the days to come."

This we did, each in his own way. In truth, I was no less ardent than the most zealous among us. Three were to be chosen, and I wanted to be one of them. So, through the dark months of winter, I strove to make myself worthy before God and my brothers. First to rise and last to sleep, I worked with unstinting diligence, giving myself to those tasks which naturally came my way, and then going out of my way to take on the chores of others.

If any were in prayer, I prayed with them. If any were at labour, I laboured with them. Whether in the fields, or the cookhouse, the oratory, or the scriptorium, I was there, earnest and eager, doing all in my power to lighten others' burdens and prove myself worthy. My zeal would not be quenched. My devotion was second to none.

When I could not think of any chore to do, I took a penance upon myself—as severe as I could devise—to chastise myself and drive out the demons of idleness and sloth, pride, envy, spite, and any others that might stand in my way. With a true and contrite heart, I did humble my willful spirit.

Then, one night...

I stood in the swift-running stream of the Blackwater, clutching a wooden bowl tight between shivering hands. Mist curled in slow eddies over the surface of the river, softly spectral in the pale light of a new moon. When my flesh began to grow numb, I dipped the bowl into the icy water and poured it over my shoulders and back. My inward organs shuddered with the shock of the cold water on naked skin. It was all I could do to keep my teeth from clashing, and my jaws ached with the effort. I could no longer feel my legs or feet.

Ice formed in the still places among the rocks at the river's edge and in my wet hair. My breath hung in clouds about my head. High above, the stars shone as flame-points of silvery light, solid as the iron-hard winter ground and silent as the night around me.

Again, and yet again, I poured the freezing water over my body, enforcing the virtue of the penance I had chosen. "Kyrie eleison..." I gasped. "Lord, have mercy!"

In this way, I held my vigil, and would have maintained it thus if I had not been distracted by the appearance of two brother monks bearing torches. I heard someone approaching and turned my stiff neck to see them clambering down the steep riverbank, holding their torches high.

"Aidan! Aidan!" one of them called. It was Tuam, the bursar, with young Dda, the cook's helper. The two slid to a halt on the bank and stood for a moment, peering out over the moving water. "We have been looking for you."

"You have found me," I replied through clenched teeth.

"You are to come out of there," Tuam said.

"When I have finished."

"Abbot has summoned everyone."

Byzantium. Copyright © by Stephen Lawhead. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Meet the Author

Stephen R. Lawhead is an internationally acclaimed author of mythic history and imaginative fiction. His works include Byzantium and the series The Pendragon Cycle, The Celtic Crusades, and The Song of Albion. Lawhead makes his home in Austria with his wife.

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Byzantium 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 47 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Stephen Lawhead, as usual, has provided the world with a book that is both well-written in terms of grammar and style but also extremely detailed and allows the reader to fully 'see' the world that Mr. Lawhead is trying to reveal. The book follows the chronicles of a monk and throughout the entire novel the reader is sent on an emotional whirlwind from laughter, to tears, to excitement, to terror, and finally, at the end, to peace and reconciliation. Without spoiling the ending (because that would be a travesty) the novel most certainly closes all the loose ends and wraps everything up very neatly unlike so many other books written today. The situations that the main character, Aidan, finds himself in are quite plausible and the reader is never left with a situation that causes the proverbial head scratching or a dumbfounded "huh?". The story is, however, rich and complex and does require the reader to pay attention to various details or further in the story he or she may become lost. That, I believe, is the mark of a good novel and this book can most certainly grace the ranks of the "best".
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a well written page-turner! Lawhead has woven accurate historical events and places into an epic adventure. The characters are intricately illustrated in words to become "real" and believable...both in triumphs and failings; the storyline is riveting. Lawhead has a masterful use of descriptive language that builds mind pictures of the places he describes. Some of the historical places in Byzantium (now Istanbul), I have visited, and could feel myself transported back to the walls and grounds and the rooms of Topkapi Palace and the beauty of the Hagia Sophia church. I was so glad this was a long book because I didn't want to leave the places or characters! Even though I know the "ending", I will probably re-read this sometime (I have it in eBook),because it's one of those stories that has depth.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Byzantium definately stands out as a peak in the mountain range of Lawhead's literary achievements. A very interesting read, this book chronicles the internal and external struggles of the dark ages like no other. If you happen to pick up this book you will find yourself blissfully lost in forest of words Lawhead has planted. Definately worth much more than any price-tag could ever gauge.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great storytelling from start to finish. First Lawhead book I have read, but will not be my lasrlt.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I didn't want it to end. I wish there was a sequel. I loved the character development, the descriptions of the places, buildings, food, and imagery. I loved the plot and the subplots. I loved the element of mystery. I have read so many of Mr. Lawhead's books and this is right at the top of the list favorites.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book has been reviewed and reviewed and reviewed. I find no need for me to add yet another review. This historical fiction has an Irish monk, Aidan, on a pilgrimage that goes awry. Aidan lost his faith in God on this journey leaving him absolutely alone and despondent in foreign lands. I cannot even imagine what despair he suffered. A barbarian Viking helped Aidan find his faith again. Can you imagine anything more unlikely? God's work may be done in strange ways. Aidan may have lost his faith for a period of time, but God never lost Aidan.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well researched story of the Book of Kells
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Melisan More than 1 year ago
Byzantium is a great read of a well planned journey gone off course. The characters are well developed, and the story kept me reading. This is a story of survival, and political/religious intrigue medieval style.
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