Book: An Oblique Approach by David Drake and Eric Flint

Very good alternate-history novel, with one minor caveat; set in the Byzantine Empire

David Drake and Eric Flint
An Oblique Approach
Baen, 1998
ISBN: 0-671-87865-4
467 pages

The main character in An Oblique Approach is Bellasarius, a historical figure who was a general in the emperor Justinian's army. Justinian was the emperor of the still-surviving eastern part of the Roman empire from 527 to 565 C.E. That empire, now commonly called the Byzantine empire (though it citizens called themselves Romans), was largely Christian and Greek-speaking and its capital was Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul).

As the story begins, Bellasarius is at home with his wife Antonina in his villa at Aleppo (in modern-day Syria) and he's awoken in the middle of the night. Two visitors have arrived, Anthony Cassian, the Bishop of Aleppo, and Michael of Macedonia, a famous ascetic monk. They bring a remarkable object, a sort of crystal that gives visions and, for some reason, they're convinced it's holy rather than evil. Bellasarius touches it as sees a vision of a horrible future: his empire defeated in his lifetime by an evil empire based in northern India. But the crystal gives him the sense that that future isn't inevitable. He and some colleagues set out to see that it doesn't come about. With the crystal's vision, they know some of the people and events that will be important and the crystal is able to help with a little information here and there. They also set up a weapons-research laboratory.

The battle scenes in the book are exciting and vivid and the plot is appropriately clever without being so intricate that it's a nuisance to follow. My only disappointment is that, as I eagerly read along, I noticed that I was getting pretty close to the end and it didn't seem that anything very significant was about to be resolved. A bit of Googling yielded the information that An Oblique Approach is the first in a six-book series. And, indeed, only one small but no-doubt important thing is resolved in the book.

I'll cheerfully read the next book in the series. Indeed, I'll probably read all of them. But it would have saved me a few minutes' disappointment if the publisher had put "First in the series" or the like on the cover or the title page.

There's a tiny editing error in that "un balance" should be "unbalance" on page 324.

Posted: Mon - October 9, 2006 at 07:32 PM   Main   Category: