Book Review – The Bear of Byzantium by S J A Turney – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb:

The wolves of Odin sail to the centre of the world: Constantinople.

AD 1041. After successfully avenging the death of his father, Halfdan and the crew of the Sea Wolf seek adventure in strange new lands, far from their Scandinavian home.

They join the fleet of Harald Hardrada, the legendary Viking commander, sailing back to Constantinople from the battlefields of Georgia. There they join the Varangians, the personal bodyguard of the Byzantine Emperors populated almost exclusively by Viking warriors. But Constantinople has changed during Hardrada’s long absence.

The Emperor, Michael IV, is ailing visibly, and powerful factions in his court are setting their plans in motion ahead of his inevitable demise. While courtiers scheme, elements even within the Varangian Guard are picking sides.

Gunnhild, the seer among the Sea Wolf crew, has struck out on her own in the big city. Unable to join the all-male Guard alongside her friends, she establishes herself in a small side-street near the port as a healer and soothsayer, offering cures to the sick and glimpses of the future to the desperate, or the conspiratorial. But in all her visions she sees a wolf, a boar and a golden bear fighting together to support the Byzantine throne. The Norns aren’t finished with them yet…

The epic second instalment in the Wolves of Odin series, taking us to the heart of power in Constantinople and the desperate machinations of the Byzantine emperors. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell, Giles Kristian and Angus Donald.

Review

The Bear of Byzantium is a fabulous book.

From the opening chapter, which focuses on Harald Hardrada, I knew this was my kind of book – if not just because of the occasional – and it is occasional for anyone who doesn’t appreciate it quite as much as me – use of a little bit of fruity language.

What follows is a journey through Constantinople at a particularly perilous time for emperors and impresses.

The two characters of Gunnhild and Halfdan, who are the main POV throughout the story, are intriguing and have very eventful stories, and the ending is exciting. I thoroughly enjoyed the way the author brought the city of Constantinople to life – something he’s extremely good at in his Roman-era books as well – as well as the customs, regulations, and also, all the paperwork (it’s much more exciting than it sounds:))

A firm favourite for me now and I look forward to continuing the story of Gunnhild and Halfdan – and I will assume Harald Hardrada at some point in the next few books in the series.

My thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy. The Bear of Byzantium is available now from Amazon and all good booksellers. Just a note that while this might be book 2, I haven’t read book 1, although I have it to read. If you want to jump right in, as I did, it won’t be a struggle to engage with the characters.

I have reviewed a fare few of S J A/Simon Turney’s Roman books. Here you’ll find the reviews for Son of Rome, Masters of Rome, Emperors of Rome and Commodus.

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Author: M J Porter, author

I'm a writer of historical fiction (Early England/Viking and the British Isles as a whole before 1066, as well as two 20th century mysteries).

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