cover image Cross and Crescent

Cross and Crescent

Susan Shwartz. Tor Books, $23.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-312-85714-1

Dazzling Byzantium, the rich and diverse empire that was once the center of the world, again serves as the setting for Shwartz's intricate imaginings, which here return readers to the world of her Shards of Empire. In 1096, Constantinople, capital of the empire, is overrun with pilgrims, knights and less altruistic sorts, all bound for the Holy Land in order to ""free"" Jerusalem from Muslim hands. While 13-year-old Anna, daughter to Alexius, Emperor of Byzantium, schemes to supplant her younger brother and inherit her father's throne, various Western forces of Franks, Gauls, Celts and other ""barbarians"" demand Alexius's alliance. When Anna befriends Leo (a Christian knight and Alexius's supporter from Shards of Empire) and his Jewish wife, Asherah, a sorceress, the emperor commands the couple's children, son Theodoulos and daughter Binah, to serve him. Theodoulus travels with Frankish troops to fight in the siege of Antioch, on the way to Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Binah lives as the emperor's nurse in Alexius's household, even as Anna grows ever more embittered, desperate to take power as her father weakens with age. Shwartz's apparent deep research and attention to detail brace her story firmly, while the narrative's impressive scope brings to life the powerful and confusing forces that shaped the medieval world. Fans of historical fiction as well as of genre fantasy (history in fact outweighs fantasy here) should enjoy this complex, well-balanced work. (Dec.)