cover image Shards of Empire

Shards of Empire

Susan Shwartz. Tor Books, $23.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-312-85716-5

Medieval fantasy has proved the literary making of Schwartz, whose acclaimed last novel, Grail of Hearts, was set primarily in the Arthurian cosmos. Now this talented author turns to 10th-century Byzantium, where Leo, a poor cousin in the politically important Ducas family, has been forced into soldiering. Duped by his uncle into betraying the Emperor Romanus, Leo flees his treacherous family to go to Romanus's aid. Even in defeat, the emperor remains dignified, and he and Leo grow so close that the lad earns the royal nickname ""Lion's Cub."" Leo is devastated when his mentor is again betrayed, but the fate meted out to the emperor-a painful blinding that leads to his death-is made slightly more bearable for both him and Leo by the bravery and beauty of a young Jewish woman called Asherah. After Romanus dies, Leo seeks her out; several political intrigues unfold before he finds her in a land filled with labyrinthine magical caves. Their developing relationship allows for an absorbing look at the customs and prejudices of the time. The multicultural melting pot of Byzantine society also gives Shwartz a marvelous setting in which to combine various magics, cultures, religions and folklores. She paints vivid and enchanted pictures of life as perhaps it ought to have been lived in far distant, more exotic times. (Apr.)