The High City
by Cecelia Holland
Review by Mel Jacob
Forge Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765305596
Date: 06 January 2009 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Prolific novelist Cecelia Holland has crafted another thriller historical novel, The High City. Set in ninth century Byzantium, it profiles the rise of Basil, the Emperor, and the life of Raef, a Scythian barbarian of Irish heritage. It contrasts the barbarism of the civilized world against those called barbarians and uncultured. The rich detail immerses the reader in that time and place.
Holland alternates between the rise of Basil and Raef's search for a way home. Basil, used to unquestioned obedience, expects all to kneel before him. Stiff-necked, Raef refuses. Despite his service in saving Basil's armada from defeat, the Emperor demands more.
Seduced by the magnificence and abundance in Constantinople, Raef wants to stay, but refuses to yield to Basil's demands. He moves from one disaster to another. Enemies strive to eliminate him and plant false evidence against him. Natural disasters add to the confusion.
Raef possesses heightened senses that enable him to elude foes and to track those he seeks. While others suffer torture and death, Raef escapes unscathed. Like a ghost, he glides through enemy lines to wreck havoc. Basil decides to use these talents when he sends Raef to recover the Empress Helena who has slipped away to join his enemy. Lust draws Raef to the task. Helena hates him because he called her a whore in public.
With more than thirty novels published, Holland is an accomplished storyteller. Fantasy elements come from Raef's totem, the hawk, which draws him toward his destiny. To him, the hawk is his mother. Holland leaves Raef's origins murky and ends with plenty of room for his further adventures. Those interested in Raef will want to read her Soul Taker series and especially Varanger that immediately precedes this book. Holland leaves plenty of room for a further sequel or series.