My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This story succeeds in bringing to life the court of the Byzantine emperor in the 11th century – a setting that I don’t think I’ve encountered before, particularly in a children’s book. You get the sense that Barrett knows her history well, and she’s chosen a character and period that seem rich and fascinating. Instead of playing Anna as a sympathetic every-girl, Barrett shows her as someone truly born to the purple, taught to rule from an early and keenly aware of what is her due. While this was refreshing and rang of historical accuracy, I never quite connected to the story in any way – I would’ve liked something a bit more in-depth, maybe. Still, I would recommend it to anyone interested in the period, or anyone looking for historical fiction taking place outside of western Europe.
I forgot to note, in my Goodreads review, that the book has a pleasantly in-depth author’s note in terms of what she fictionalized and what is true. Also, I think the cover is pretty fab and has held up well in the 10 years since it was published. I couldn’t help but wish, though, as the book highlighted differences between succession and rule in the East versus the West, that it had also played up some of the religious differences. Apart from a few mentions of hymns (in that wonderfully familiar style), the religious characters and the convent where Anna is sent could have just as easily been (disappointingly) Western. Bah.