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Reviews for Byzantium!

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Dr Who preserves St. Mark

By:Michael Baxter, Coalville, Leicestershire, UK
Date:Saturday 20 April 2002
Rating:   10

I must say I expected this novel to be something of a send-up when I saw it described as 'I, Claudius meets The Life of Brian at the pub'. This almost persuaded me not to buy it! Thankfully I did, and avoided missing the wonderful passages where Dr Who (yes I will call him that if I want to) criticises the three pompous scribes for robbing St. Mark's writing of its soul as a side-effect of their translation. The book is influenced by I, Claudius in a way I found hugely enjoyable, and the input from The Life of Brian was happily understated. I did find it difficult to imagine that schoolmaster hero of my childhood, Ian Chesterton, stripped naked and being chased around a bedroom by the lascivious Antonia, though I felt confident throughout that Barbara would be never be betrayed by her champion to the extent of Ian actually bedding this strumpet from antiquity. I didn't like the top and tail of the novel with its glimpses at a future, henpecked Ian, but then I never have cared for this sort of inclusion: it disrupts the flow of the adventures, especially if one tries to read them in their logical order. Overall, though, a delightful little tome, and its content a welcome change from one new alien race after another being trotted past us, often the case in post-Hartnell Dr Who.

Should be better

By:The Master, UK
Date:Wednesday 27 August 2003
Rating:   2

If this is supposed to be set between The Rescue and The Romans if makes no sense.Ian and Vicki are also poorly Characterised.

By jove ...

By:Darrg, Wessex
Date:Tuesday 1 March 2005
Rating:   7

The first Doctor formula of 'split everybody up and let them have their own little adventures' is pushed to its limits here, with none of the four travellers' stories impacting much on each other. As a historical romp this is fine and readable fare, but the Bob Dylan quotes, and knowing references to early 80s bands like the Teardrop Explodes and New Order are more jarringly anachronistic than a blue police box - especially when they come out of the mouth of Chesterton (unless he's used time travel as a means of getting au fait with pop music from after his time ... ?). In fact both Ian and Vicki's dialogue is a bit laboured and unconvincing in its attempts to be realistically colloquial. But if you can ignore all that - quite a jolly read! The author obviously had a great time writing it.

A good romp that grates after a while

By:simon, Bristol
Date:Sunday 7 August 2005
Rating:   5

Much to enjoy here - a historical romp that has power politics, death and plenty of sex. But the very bits that are so enjoyable are also irritating. The Monty Python references begin to grate after a while, especially when they're as unsubtle as setting up a virtually identical 'what did the Romans ever do for us?' scene. Ian starts spouting some very poor cockneyisms that don't suit him and Vicky is redundant. The characterisation of the different factions within Byzantium is too black and white, with occasional glaring anachronisms. But none the less, there is fun to be had with Byzantium!

Topping Matures

By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 19 November 2010
Rating:   8

I am not sure whether the other reviewers and I read the same book. Though the novel is set in ancient Rome and has the requisite political intrigue, gore, and luxury, I see hardly any "Life of Brian" in here and only a little "I, Claudius." So, let us get to the novel as is. This is a first Doctor adventure separated into five "episodes." The novel is set between "The Rescue" and "The Romans" and Topping provides justification for this by having the TARDIS stolen by the man whose villa the crew will occupy in "The Romans." Each chapter is titled based upon pop song references, but each also has an epigram from the Gospel of Mark. Title and epigrams bear only passing relationship to the contents of each chapter. These references then are a weakness, an attempt maybe to give literary depth to the story. Getting the other weaknesses out of the way, we have these: After the crew gets split up, the Doctor features very little in the novel and has no impact at all on the main events. The ending is too rush-rush, as though Topping knew he had run the length and just needed to get our heroes back together again. Ian at times seems disturbingly nonchalant about killing people.

The strengths of the novel are much more forceful. This is Topping's best for Doctor Who in a number of ways. First, he has a better grasp on his style, and seems much more comfortable with advanced rhetorical and literary technique than in previous novels. Second, he seems to have found his niche in the historical genre. The research shows through, and Topping does very well in capturing the flavor of life in Byzantium, 64CE. Third, Topping smartly avoids incorporating well-known historical figures, so that the reader gets a sense of "people's history" instead of official history. His characterizations of the various ethnic groups treats them with the dignity of maintaining ethnic identity without stereotyping or degrading. He is realistic about the types of people he uses to populate the story. The political intrigue story involving the prefect and the general is particularly interesting and keeps the novel going apace.

In short, I really think this is an underrated work, perhaps more mature than what readers may have expected.

A struggle to finish

By:Chris Arnold, Bundaberg, Australia
Date:Tuesday 3 July 2012
Rating:   3

I finished this novel a couple of days ago, thinking that a little distance would bring on a positive vibe about the elements of the story. Unfortunately I can't say this happened. I found the story a little pointless. The TARDIS crew just seemed to wander about and view little vignettes of history without affecting the plot at all. Then they just sort of wandered out of the story altogether. Although there were many supporting characters, a potentially confusing situation, most were well signposted and had individual identities. Some of the brutality in the novel was also handled well and the chapters are short which I always think is a good idea.
The biggest flaw in the book was the dialogue sprouted by the TARDIS crew. Much of their speech was nothing like the actors' portrayals on screen and I could not imagine the characters saying what Topping has written for them. In particular Ian's slang throughout the novel was a particular sore point, and each time it happened I found myself taken out of the story completely. A shame, as I think if this were fixed there would be more to enjoy overall.
The novel also clashes somewhat with the events of the short story Romans Cutaway from the More Short Trips anthology. Topping tries to suggest that the events in the short story are part of some strange dream, a clever idea, but if I had to choose which of the two versions of events were a dream I would choose Topping's version of Byzantium! With the poor dialogue and the meandering nature of the story this could easily be concocted by an unconscious Ian or Barbara. It would explain why Ian is being chased around by all the women of Byzantium!

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