A Place Called Armageddon: Deftly written historical fiction

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsA Place Called Armageddon by C. C. Humphreys A Place Called Armageddon by C.C. Humphreys

“I am Constantine Palaiologos, emperor, son of Caesars. I am a baker, a ropewright, a fisherman, a monk, a merchant. I am a soldier. I am Roman. I am Greek. I am two thousand years old. I was born in freedom only yesterday. This is my city, Turk. Take it if you can.”

In C.C. Humphreys’ novel A Place Called Armageddon, it’s 1453, and the Byzantine Empire is an empire only in name. Its last bastion is Constantinople and the brilliant, arrogant young sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmet II, has his sights set on it, set on completing his father Murad’s work in eliminating his Greco-Christian foes once and for all. Murad was everything his son was not — statesman, soldier, commander — and Mehmet’s accession to the throne saw him immediately shadowed by his father’s legacy. Mehmet, however, was exceedingly arrogant and fancied himself akin to Caesar and Alexander, and he set his eyes upon the walls of Constantinople to prove himself worthy of the title Fatih, conqueror — the walls his ancestors had dashed themselves upon siege after siege for a millennium to no success.

Gregoras Lascaris is a man betrayed and exiled from Constantinople. His face is disfigured and missing a nose, and he has no desire to ever return to the city he once called home. Travelling and selling his sword under different names, fate ends up calling him back to Constantinople, where he discovers his twin brother Theon, his betrayer, married to his lover Sofia. Fictional characters from a historical family stand alongside many historical characters that Humphreys portrays exceptionally well. The aging Constantine, emperor of but one city, who sees his people facing their doom; the heroic Genoan Giovanni Giustiniani Longo leading the defense of Constantinople; the innovative German/Scottish engineer Johannes Grant; the aforementioned Sultan Mehmet; as well as some more minor characters fighting for reasons beyond plunder.

Mehmet was truly brilliant (historically as well) despite his somewhat childlike tantrums when he didn’t get his way. For a taste: can’t get your ships through the chain blockading the Golden Horn? Try laying a bunch of greased logs along the shore and rolling the ships to the side! Yes, he actually did these things.

Humphreys nails the blend of historical accuracy and fiction, from the thunder of Basilica, the 27-foot long cannon that launched massive 600-lb cannonballs more than a mile to the fierce fighting on the walls, the citizens of Constantinople fighting for their very livelihoods. What follows is a heartbreaking story which, despite knowing its historical end, was still gut-wrenching, down to Constantine’s final charge.

Do yourself a favor if you enjoy historical fiction as deftly written as by Christian Cameron and Paul Kearney.

A Place Called Armageddon — (2011) Publisher: Gregoras had vowed never to return to Constantinople, the cursed home that had betrayed and scarred not only his mind, but his face, for all to see. But now with 100,000 Muslim soldiers outside its walls, he can hear its desperate calls for his help, as it can only be held by men and mercenaries as skilled in battle as Gregoras, of which few remain. His return home, though, will mean not only having to face the constant hum of arrow and cannon, but also Theon, twin brother… and betrayer. And with him his beloved Sofia, lost when Gregoras was cast from his home, now bound to Theon in marriage. But the rewards of victory would not only be the glories of the battle, but the redemption of his name and his soul.

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Patrick Doherty, one of our beloved GUEST REVIEWERS, has been addicted to fantasy since he read his first Dragonlance novel when he was fifteen, and the addiction has expanded into most Speculative Fiction in the past few years. When not reading, Pat is probably either watching or playing sports and is a huge Boston sports fan. His favorite authors include Adrian Tchaikovsky, George R.R. Martin, Steven Erikson, and David Gemmell. Pat keeps a blog at A Bitter Draft.

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2 comments

  1. This sounds like it would go nicely with the non-fiction book I’m reading now; JUSTINEAN’S FLEA.

  2. That sounds like a book that K.J. Parker might have written — which, of course, means that I *must* read it!

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