Below are my reviews for the three books in this series – SPOILER ALERT – I loved all of them.
Strategos 1 – Born in the Borderlands
Apion is a lost soul, doomed to a life of servitude and mockery. Losing his family to a band of mysterious raiders and horribly wounded himself he is rescued from his slavery by an unlikely source, a Seljuk farmer. Unlikely because he is a Christian and tensions are high between the proponents of Islam and the proponents of Christ in the borderlands of the Byzantine Empire. This is a story of how Apion overcomes his physical limitations and rises up through the ranks of the borderland garrison in the face of the invasion by Tugrul – The Falcon – and the Seljuk horde bent on the destruction of anything Byzantine.
The author, Gordon Doherty, has crafted a marvelous telling of the period when The East meets The West in the throes of Constantinople’s decline. You can feel the heat, hear the cicadas and experience the ironies of the many conflicted emotions in this saga of redemption, reward and revenge. As with any good book, the main protagonist needs an enemy, someone to focus his attention, someone to keep him going no matter the pain and the author does not disappoint. Not only does Apion have to deal with Seljuk warriors but also with elements within the garrison, a couple of real nasty specimens who just so happen work for The Emperor.
I really enjoyed this journey. It brings home the fact that we too live in a time of turmoil, that East vs. West is continuing to create uncertainty and fear. It is also a wonderful story in itself but also leaves you wanting more so strap on your scimitar and head to Anatolia for this excellent tale but leave room for the sequel.
Strategos 2 – Rise of the Golden Heart
I have read three of Mr. Doherty’s books and liked them a lot. Given that his track record is superb I expected nothing less than that same excellence from Strategos: Rise of the Golden Heart. If I was previously enthralled with his work, and not just a little jealous, I am even more so now.
It has been twelve years since the end of book 1 and Apion is now a Strategos and his reputation as The Haga grows after every battle or skirmish with his Seljuk enemies. His development as a strong, decisive leader of men is countered somewhat by the soul sickening events of his past. We find him not only having to cope with his turmoil on an emotional level but physically as well given that his most obdurate foe, once his best friend, has sworn vengeance and death to The Haga. Mr. Doherty plays this sub-plot beautifully and adds some unforeseen results…(no spoilers J ).
Once again, the author has put together a story line with abundant twists, turns and surprises. One in particular had my mind screaming OMG or was it WTF when, no wait, no spoilers here boys and girls, suffice to know that the author has not lost his touch for mystery and intrigue. Neither has the author neglected to do his homework. The battles are first rate, the geography is well described and the everyday events of 11th century Byzantium are evidence of the research.
Relentless action, political intrigue, betrayal, bitter foes and steadfast friends – the list goes on and on and I’m pretty sure will carry over to book 3. Well done Mr. Doherty. I rate this book at 4.8.
Strategos 3 – Island in the Storm
First off let me say that I have a major beef with Mr. Doherty and I am sure that all of you who read the words of this humble scribe will agree once you finish Island in the Storm. This series has been among the best I’ve read and now it is over and that my friends is the cause of my discontent. However, the sheer brilliance in this third volume does tend to soften the blow. This is storytelling at it’s finest, the drama, the emotion, the horrors of war, the loss of friends; in all these and more the author is at the top of his game. Throughout the book we are part of the struggle not only between Byzantium-Diogenes Romanus and the Seljuk Turk Alp Arslan but also to the powers seeking to supplant Romanus and too, Alp Arslan. The plots and twists are the ever present backdrop to the building climatic battle at Manzikert on August 26, 1071. As a describer of battle scenes Mr. Doherty has always brought the sights, sounds and smells to the readers senses but in this battle, one that covers so much time and space and has so many ebbs and flows coupled with the ferocity and emotional trauma, the author delivers a coup de grace. As expected Apion, The Haga, has a destiny to fulfill and is faced with making choices that will determine not only his future but the future of much more. The characters be they likable(Sha, Blastares, et. al.) or be they repulsive(Psellos, John Doukas, et. al.) are done beautifully and imbue the story with the realities of the time and situation. In short, this series may be over but it is certainly going out on a very high note. 5 stars