Anna of Byzantium – Tracy Barrett
Laurel Leaf, 2000
[Note: I read a Dutch translation of this book, published by Callenbach in 2000.]
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Anna of Byzantium is about Anna Comnena, daughter of Byzantine Emperor Alexius I. She is next in line to the throne, but through a plot she loses the throne to her younger brother Johannes. Anna is put into a cloister, and there she turns to writing history, including the history of her own life..
This book of historical fiction is, I think, aimed at a younger YA audience. The language is simple, but effective and the story is a bit predictable for older audiences, maybe, but interesting nonetheless.
I liked how history and the study of history was an integral part of the story, and it was especially Anna’s history teacher that I felt sympathetic towards. Anna herself comes across as spoiled for the first half of the book, and even in the latter half she does complain a lot. It is a believable depiction of a character that was always raised with the idea that she was one day going to rule. Nevertheless, it did get on my nerves. What I was more annoyed by, was that Anna’s dislike of her brother starts because of his looks, and is only later on supplemented with his character not being to her liking. At the end of the book, it is once again the looks that she mentions when she reflects on her life. Again, a depiction that might have been true to the environment in which Anna was raised, as well as some of the historical sources, but again I wasn’t entirely sure if this is something that should be underlined in YA fiction. Then again, it is historical fiction based on sources that Barrett mentions in the end have a reference to Anna’s special dislike of her brothers looks, or that he was ugly. Nevertheless, I felt that first raising the issue of his looks and later adding to that that he was a lazy boy who was only after power and very selfish, might make teenagers feel that yes, looks do say something about character. And that obviously, would be regrettable.
In general, I did enjoy reading this book. Especially reading about the Byzantine Empire. I can’t wait to read more about Anna Comnena, who wrote a history of her father’s time, the Alexiade.
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