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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Wednesday 4 January 2023

The Mosaic of Shadows

 This is historical fiction written by Tom Harper. It is the first of his Crusades series, based in Constantinople, when the First Crusade arrived in 1096. The author studied medieval history at Oxford University, and the level of historical detail shows in his writing. 

Essentially, the crusaders made their way to Constantinople by different routes. The Byzantines expected a smaller force, especially wary of the Normans that they had recently fought against. The Emperor insisted on an oath that they would hand over former Byzantine lands they captured en route to the Holy Land. Only then would he ship them across the straits and provide large-scale supplies. This led to a stand-off, which is the backdrop to the book.

Our unlikely hero is Demetrios Askiates, a former soldier with a reputation for investigations. He is summoned to the Palace by Krysaphios, Chamberlain to Emperor Alexios. There was an attempt on the Emperor's life when an assassin fired a powerful crossbow at him, killing a member of the Varangian Guard.

The commander of the Varangian Guard is Sigurd, an Anglo-Saxon exile with no love for the Normans. He provides the muscle for the investigation that takes us around the city and outside to Galata and the neighbouring countryside. The suspects range from court officials and nobles to crusader leaders. I won't spoil the plot as usual, but we are kept in suspense until the very end.

The author includes evocative descriptions of the city and the lives of those who lived in it. You can almost smell the streets and houses of the different quarters. It has plenty of characters to match and decent action scenes as well. However, it is a robust medieval crime mystery rather than a Bernard Cornwell. Not my usual bedtime fiction reading, but very good.

My 28mm Varangian Guard of the period.


  1. I read the entire series many moons ago, when they first came out in paperback. I enjoyed them. As you say, they’re not specifically military historical fiction rather they feature crime/mystery investigation & solutions at a time/place where an awful lot of military “action” was happening.

  2. I see Demitrios goes with the Crusaders to Antioch in the next one. Might try that later.