Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



In association with Amazon.it - Italia

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Sultan Of Byzantium

Selçuk Altun

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Sultan Of Byzantium

Title: The Sultan Of Byzantium
Author: Selçuk Altun
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 287 pages
Original in: Turkish
Availability: The Sultan Of Byzantium - US
The Sultan Of Byzantium - UK
The Sultan Of Byzantium - Canada
The Sultan Of Byzantium - India
Le Sultan de Byzance - France
  • Turkish title: Bizans Sultanı
  • Translated by Clifford and Selhan Endres

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : fun idea and details, but never gets quite exciting enough

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Herald . 26/10/2012 Alastair Mabbott

  From the Reviews:
  • "Frankly, our well-off, indulged, intellectual narrator is a hard person to care about. But if Altun's purpose was to send readers scurrying off to investigate the glories of Byzantium for themselves -- its unique and distinctive culture, its eventful and often violent history -- he's done an exemplary job." - The Herald, Alastair Mabbott

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       The Sultan Of Byzantium has an amusing premise: that while the Byzantine Empire collapsed after a run of over a thousand years, in 1453, it didn't do so in quite the way history recorded, and its leaders didn't quite throw in the towel. The narrator, the son of a Turkish woman and an American father he never really knew, and living a comfortable life as an associate professor at Bosphorus University, finds about this when he is approached by: "a secret society named Nomophylax (Nomo), which means Guardians of the Law". They're sitting on a heap of money, and they have big plans: to return the rightful heir of Byzantium to his proper, glorious position -- where he can then do with what the institution has become (and its amassed fortune) as he pleases. Three guesses who they have in mind .....
       Of course, it's not just a matter of handing over the keys to the kingdom, as it were. No, the narrator must prove himself, and so first he has to bone up on Byzantium -- a crash course in everything Byzantine that takes him to London and the US -- and then comes the testing period, which will lead him on something of a wild goose chase. Bankrolled with a £30,000 a month allowance -- peanuts for Nomo -- he can live in very comfortable style indeed as he goes about their business, wondering how seriously to take all this but certainly willing to play along for the time being.
       The narrator doesn't reveal his name until late in the novel -- though he does allow earlier on that while his mother had given him a Turkish name, his father always referred to him as Adrian (after his favorite emperor, Hadrian). He had a comfortable childhood, even as he wasn't very close to his mother -- until word of his father's death came. He eventually adopted a local girl who needed help, and who was brought up like his much younger sister by his mother and grandmother, but hadn't managed to start his own family -- generally simply satisfying his needs with the help of a double-dose of prostitutes (often then helpfully procured for him by his Nomo-handlers when he is on his quest).
       The Sultan Of Byzantium is a crash course in Byzantium -- which proves quite fascinating -- as well as a quest tale that leads the narrator to learn more about himself, both as he finds out more about his father and as he eventually meets a woman that he can see himself being with. Oh, yes, and it's also a thriller of sorts, as he has to race (at leisurely pace) to complete the test -- and finds some unexpected obstacles along the way.
       A cultured man of considerable leisure, there's lots of (surprising) literary name-dropping throughout; the books he casually mentions reading suggest quite the Renaissance man. Amusing, too, are the cameos by Selçuk Altun, who crosses paths with the narrator on several occasions -- right down to one point where the narrator reports:

It was odd that this writer, whose work I never read, was manipulating me as if I were one of his characters.
       And then there's that thriller element: will the narrator pass the test ? And is there more of a conspiracy here than he realizes ? (And will he get the girl ?) Altun doesn't manage to achieve anywhere near contemporary thriller-like tension with this part of the novel; indeed, the quest becomes a protracted but slow-paced one, with rather much straying off the path along the way (and rather too much mention of how comfortably he's living, in fine hotels and with attentive staff always ready to do his bidding). It's entertaining and quite clever, but in the end there's a lot he's juggling here and all this straying about defuses much of the tension.
       All the elements of The Sultan Of Byzantium are appealing -- the Byzantine history is fascinating, the narrator is a reasonably interesting and cultured man of the world (albeit a bit too happy to satisfy himself with the services of prostitutes), there's a love story, there's an adventure story -- but it doesn't all quite add up. Not well enough, in any case -- the book is fun, but not nearly as fun as it seems it should be.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 March 2013

- Return to top of the page -


The Sultan Of Byzantium: Reviews: Other books by Selçuk Altun under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Turkish author Selçuk Altun was born in 1950.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2013 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links