Sunday, May 17, 2020

Byzantine, by Holly Messinger

★★★★★ A delightfully complex tale at the end of an era.

(Historical Fantasy) In 1453, just before the fall of Constantinople, a slave boy secretly learns from a djinn and looks for a way out. (18,326 words; Time: 1h:01m)

"Byzantine," by (edited by C.C. Finlay), appeared in issue 05-06|20, published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2020.278 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: Although the ifrit is the narrator, Iosef is the actual protagonist; he’s the one with plans and goals, after all; the ifrit merely tells us what went down.

It very nice the way our understanding of Iosef changes across the story. We first meet him as a victim, being sexually abused by a callous master. Only later, when Iosef couples with the ifrit (in a less-physical way) do we learn that he actually enjoys his trysts with his master. That, in fact, he actually controls his master’s behavior. The ifrit calls him a narcissist and a psychopath, and it should know.

Iosef seeks knowledge more than anything else, as we see in the scene where he bargains with the ifrit for understanding of the physicians scrolls in exchange for the lives of some of the mercenaries who’d come to steal the man’s books. At every step, Iosef takes steps to increase his knowledge, and his whole goal in finding a way to enslave the ifrit is to use it to find things out.

The ifrit doesn’t exactly have goals—it experiences the future as mostly determined—but it has a blind spot with respect to its own future (something it admits to Iosef early on), and that enables him to trap it. It enjoys its time with him, and even at the end, it’s a little regretful about feeding on him.

The Fall of Constantinople is one of the “Great Hinges of History,” although probably more symbolically than practically, given how far the city had declined by then. Just as the fall of Rome in 476 can be considered the start of the Middle Ages, the fall of Constantinople a thousand years later can be considered the end, and both are endlessly fascinating.

Con: There are a few anachronisms. For example, the story has Iosef and physician making Greek Fire, but the formula for that had been lost for 200 years by the time the city fell.

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Holly Messinger Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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