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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Intrigue Amid The Icons

The Bearkeeper's Daughter - Gillian Bradshaw

 Set in Constantinople in the sixth century, this is the story of John, the illegitimate son of the empress Theodora. She was the eponymous bearkeeper's daughter, as well as being a former prostitute and actress who climbed her way out of poverty to become the most powerful woman in the world.


The story begins with John as a young man, arriving at the Byzantine court unexpectedly, not knowing whether his mother will acknowledge him , not even knowing whether she truly is his mother. It's a gamble that might have ended in his execution. Instead, Theodora welcomes him to the court and finds him a position. But on one condition: his identity must remain a secret.


This is a wonderfully engrossing novel. The characters are strongly depicted, the setting vividly evoked, the intrigues and dramas of the Byzantine court convincingly depicted. I devoured this book in a couple of days and all the time that I was reading it, I half-believed myself to be living amid the glittering mosaics and bejewelled icons of Justinian and Theodora's court.