On August 20th 2011 I posted about my discovery of with a visit of Varangian: The Stone of Babylon by Sabine Atkins. It did not take long and I came into contact with Sabine Atkins. Regularly readers know that can't get enough books. I explained Sabine Atkins my interest in Varangian: The Stone of Babylon and she sent me an electronic copy. It seems the number of books which I read in electronic format is increasing.
I read the book within three days which is most of the an omen that I like a book. I do not want to bore you any longer with a waterfall of words. Just follow me to my review of Varangian: The Stone of Babylon.
Book Store Information
In general my decision to read a book is mostly based on the cover and the blurb/synopsis delivered on the back cover. You do not get more information when you are in a book store. The world of books is changing which means I also will take in account blurbs and descriptions on GOODREADS and other places.
Here we go:
"Bound by an ancient oath, Edric is protecting a powerful secret ...My Expectations
Anglo-Saxon Edric is a Varangian, the member of an elite military force in medieval Constantinople. Being part secret service agent, part imperial security detail, he is privy to all kinds of secrets and intrigues in a strategically significant city embroiled in wars as well as internal political turmoil. But Edric is taken by surprise, when he finds out that his friend, an alchemist from Persia, has given him superpowers and wants him to protect the Stone of Babylon - by any means necessary.
This task sends Edric on a mind-bending journey of epic proportions, full of exciting clashes with warriors and supernatural beings, dangerous alchemy, time travel, fantastical machines, and the acquaintances of strikingly beautiful members of the opposite sex (and not all of them seem to be concerned with his well-being).
A journey that not only will reveal to him the purpose of the Stone of Babylon, but also show him his true strength." [Source]
I must say that after reading the text above and spending time on Varangian: The Stone of Babylon my expectation rose above a certain limit. The blend of history, fantasy, superpowers and time travel is seductive. But I know it is dangerous if you expect too much.
Deep in the heart Varangian: The Stone of Babylon is a book about sincerity, straightforwardness, principles, fidelity and love. All these themes find their expression in the person of Edric.
That sounds like Varangian: The Stone of Babylon is novel with a heavily philosophical and didactic touch. But I can assure you that most of the mentioned themes find their expression in the action and thoughts of Edric and his interaction with his surrounding. You won't find theorems. On the surface the reader is confronted with the question what one should do with supernatural gifts.
Sabine Atkins shows her talent to cope with thoughtful themes in an entertaining and intoxicating way which undeniably arouse your thirst for historical knowledge.
The prologue gives a first hint that there are more things between heaven and Earth as mankind can explain. The setting is heavily connected with a part of human history which does not belong to the general knowledge.
I have a knack for history and I must admit I never heard about the Varangian Guard before.
But it is more satisfying read when you know that the Varangian Guard was an elite unit of viking mercenaries and part of the Byzantine Army from 900 to 1400.
I highly recommend to read English Refugees in the Byzantine Armed Forces: The Varangian Guard and Anglo-Saxon Ethnic Consciousness By Nicholas C.J. Pappas in case you want to get more out of the book than pure entertainment.
The Byzantine Empire and especially the town Constantinople plays an important role. Within a few pages Sabine Atkins takes you back in time. You see the big walls, you hear Arabian voices and you smell the for us European exotic scents. You breathe history and you think that is the way the book will go. But with a pinprick in form of an outburst of Edric's supernatural power she gives you a first hint that this is much more than pure historical fiction. The arrival of crusaders on board of Venetian warships set a wheel in motion which gives way to a story that will take you above the abyss of time and leaves you in waiting mode for the next book. You may miss information about time travel. That is a conscious decision. Any word more about it would give away a lot of the story. I confirm there is time travel and it is important for the story.
One could say that the title of the book - Varangian: The Stone of Babylon - is the most condensed summary of the book. But a stone does not live. All the things inside, around and connected to the stone comes alive in the connection between Edric and the stone. The story starts with a classical prologue which is short and mysterious. Then follows a breathtaking adventure which is best described with a roller coaster ride. The end of Varangian: The Stone of Babylon is a cliffhanger conclusion. That means Edric finished a part of his adventure but there is much more to come.
Edric, the intelligent, powerful, honest, sometimes naive, shy and stubborn man is a very dominating character who gives the people surrounding him (it does not matter to which party they belong) enough room to breathe and to develop their personalities. The intensity of characterization of other persons depends on their importance for Edric and the story. There are some characters where I would like to get more information. But I try to keep in mind that this is the first book in a series.
Edric is far beyond to be a macho. He likes women but loves only a few. He is afraid to be emotionally hurt. When he loves then his love is unconditionally. Edric belongs to the kind of people who wear their heart on their sleeves.
The writing inhabits a certain ease and fits always to the situation. I like the pace and the rhythm a lot which ships you around any possible bumpiness without problems.
Don't be surprised when you breathe heavier when action takes part. Don't forget to wear sunglasses in case nobody should see your tears while reading the heartbreaking scenes. And once a while glows humor.
Varangian: The Stone of Babylon is an absolutely great blend of history, fantasy, superpowers and time travel which blossoms in an adventurous roller coaster ride of a story starring Edric who is fascinating character because he is intelligent, powerful, honest, sometimes naive, shy and stubborn. He belongs to the kind of characters who are always true to themselves and which you sometimes want to kiss and to slap into the face at the same time.