by Poul Anderson
Reviewed by Annis
Rogue Sword is the story of Emperor Andronicus II of Byzantium: of how in 1303 he cried havoc and let slip the dogs of war, unleashing a pack of unruly Spanish mercenaries upon marauding Turkish invaders, only to have that same pack turn on him three years later, savaging his already wounded Empire and hastening its demise. Unusually for Anderson, a master of fantasy, it's a dark historical swashbuckler, a tale of greed and violence.
Lucas Greco is a bold and restless adventurer. The bastard son of a Venetian nobleman and a Greek woman, he owes allegiance to no one, and takes what he wants from life through guile, quick wits and his sword. He uses people carelessly, especially women. When he does find love, he almost destroys it. His eventual success is a bitter one, bought at the cost of a faithful friend. In 1306, he joins the Grand Catalan Company under the command of Catalan knight Jaime de Caza, a former companion. A band of ruthless Almogàver mercenaries hired to fight off the Turks, the Company is now at war with Byzantium itself following the treacherous murder of its leader, Roger de Flor.
Once-great Byzantium is embattled, no longer able to protect its disintegrating Empire from predatory, power-hungry Turks, Venetians, Genoese, the Frankish Crusader States and, not least, the men of the Grand Catalan Company, intent on carving out their own bloody share of Byzantine territory in vengeful retribution.
Despite its comic-book cover and swaggering air, Rogue Sword is at heart a tragedy in the classical sense: the actions of a flawed central character in a chaotic, brutal world bring disaster for all those around him.
"Behold what came of the wicked deeds of the Emperor and the treachery against us," said Catalan Company commander Ramon Muntaner, "We lorded it all over the land, and we raided the Empire at our ease." (1960, 283 pages)
More about Rogue Sword at Powell's Books
Other novels featuring mercenary companies:
Tirant lo Blanc by Joanot Martorell (1490), a fifteenth century Spanish classic originally written in the Catalan language, a novel of chivalry and adventure about Roger de Flor, founder of the Grand Catalan Company. More info
Sir Nigel (1906) and The White Company (1891) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, inspired by the life and times of English mercenary captain Sir John Hawkwood druing the Hundred Years War; Sir Nigel is a prequel to The White Company. More info
Knave of Swords (1998; More info) and King of Coins (1999; More info) by Nicholas Carter, series novels about the adventures of a band of English mercenaries fighting in sixteenth century Italy.
Nonfiction about the Grand Catalan Company and the fall of Byzantium:
The Catalan Expedition to the East: The Chronicle of Ramon Muntaner edited and translated by Robert D. Hughes, the memoirs of an officer of the Grand Catalan Company. More info from Powell's or a free online copy of the Lady Goodenough translation
Byzantium: Decline and Fall by John Julius Norwich More info
Wikipedia article about the Catalan Company
Encyclopedia Britannica article on The Byzantine Empire under Andronicus II Palaeologus
Back to Medieval Constantinople and Byzantine Empire
Back to Directory of Book Reviews