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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061841880
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/13/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 880
Sales rank: 200,027
File size: 1 MB

About 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.

Read an Excerpt


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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Byzantium 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 52 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.
atimco on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Stephen Lawhead's Byzantium tells the story of a young monk, Aidan, who is captured by Vikings while traveling to Byzantium with a beautiful manuscript. Unfortunately I can't go into any more details about the plot because I dropped the book a little less than halfway through.I know that first impressions can be deceiving, but lately it seems all my negative first impressions of authors and books ¿ which I have tried to change with rereads and an open mind ¿ have been correct. I remember reading some of Lawhead's fantasy in high school and not really finding anything memorable there. It was passable stuff, acceptable fodder for a young reader scouring the slim shelves of a provincial library, but I remember very little of it and have never had a desire to revisit his work. A recent enthusiastic recommendation for Byzantium determined me to try this author once again. After all, I couldn't explicitly trust the literary impressions I formed in high school, could I?Turns out I could. On page 328 of 870, I had to concede defeat. There is something about Lawhead's prose that I just don't like. Maybe it's the sporadic attempts to sound Irish (every now and then prefacing a statement with "Sure, and") or just the way the story dragged. When a book starts feeling like a chore to pick up, it's time to put it down.So I don't think I'll be picking up another Lawhead book any time soon. Maybe I should just start trusting my first impressions!
Kirconnell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A whopper of a book, it tallys in at over 700 pages. The reader travels from Ireland to Byzantium and back again. The book chronicles the adventures of a group of Irish monks who go to Medieval Byzantium to deliver a beautiful handcrafted Bible to the emperor. Lots of action and history covered. I wasn't sure that I would make it through, but I persevered (just as the monks do) and am now glad that I did.
sirfurboy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of St Aidan, written with Lawhead's usual talent for evoking a real feeling for the age and a love for the characters. Aidan and a group of other monks travel from Ireland to Byzantium to hand deliver an exquisitely illuminated manuscript to the emperor - the famous book of Kells. But disaster overtakes them and Aidan is captured by vikings and taken into slavery.Lawhead describes the various people's well. He does not romanticise the vikings, for instance, but paints them with all their barbarity as seen through the eyes of the Irish monk. And yet as the book progresses, these characters become some of the most wonderful that Lawhead has written, and you feel regret to wave them good bye at the end of this story.Lawhead's research into his novels is extensive, but usually there are areas where experts on the subject would tell us that things were not quite the way they are set out. This is a fictional work, and sometimes the facts of history are massaged a little to make a better tale. But even with this in mind, this story is a wonderful historical narrative too, and most readers must surely come away with a better feel for the period than they had before they started.All in all I think this is perhaps one of the author's best works, and thoroughly recommended.
January_F on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had started reading this book 8 years ago, and never finished. The story stuck in my mind, though, and it was always there luring me in to reread it - so I did. This time I pushed through the lull in the middle to finish, and I'm glad I did. This was a great story - sweeping in the geographic scope, and really interesting with the play of different religions and cultures.
LisaMaria_C on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a door-stopper of a book, a first person narrative of a 10th Century Irish monk, Aidan, and his pilgrimage to Byzantium in the course of which he'll become "a slave, a spy, a sailor" going from a monk's robes to a slave's rags and collar to "the silken robes of a Sarazen prince." This book is on a fantasy rec list, is found in the fantasy section in the store and is by a fantasy writer--but I wouldn't call it fantasy despite a few prophetic dreams. Rather it's a work of pure historical fiction based on a real historical figure. I felt it got to a slow start, it became a page-turner about a hundred pages in, but it grew more and more engrossing as it went on--both adventure and mystery with a dollop of romance featuring memorable characters and an interesting insight into the appeal of Christianity (but not in a preachy way, I promise, even though a crisis of faith is at the center of the book.)
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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