Blake, Richard - 'The Blood of Alexandria'
This is another fantastically crafted tale about the life of Aelric and Martin, his ever-faithful secretary. As with Blake's previous books about this cheerful and resourceful character, THE BLOOD OF ALEXANDRIA is written as if it is a memoir: Aelric is in his old age, living in a monastery and reflecting back on his life when he was a young man. He starts off in life as a lowly clerk and, in this latest offering, has risen to the position of senator and been sent to Alexandria to oversee the transportation of the Egyptian harvest to Rome and also enforce changes to some laws regarding land ownership. None of this is particular popular with the locals and, before too long, a revolt is underway.
Troubles seem to come in threes for our Aelric; as his sworn adversary, Priscus, suddenly arrives in town, seemingly obsessed with finding a previously unheard-of relic: the chamber pot of Christ. Aelric reluctantly agrees to help in the search and in the process uncovers information that puts his life in grave danger. Then Martin is kidnapped by the mob after a particularly nasty riot and, with the help of a mysterious sorceress, Aelric heads off into the unknown to rescue his friend.
After a slow start that requires some effort to keep on reading, the tempo of the book rapidly picks up and you just can't put it down. Blake's detailed descriptions of life in ancient Egypt under Roman occupation bring the story and its characters to life and are, at times, beautifully gruesome - for example the rather horrendous method used to execute the perpetrators of the main uprising, by being impaled on large stakes and left to die slowly, leave you feeling as if you are standing in the crowd, watching.
I love this book and am impatient to read Blake's next instalment. At times things get so seemingly hopeless for Aelric that it is a comfort to know he is writing his memoirs and does indeed survive to tell the tale.
Amanda C M Gillies, Scotland