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October 2005
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The Tale of Krispos

Harry Turtledove is one of "my" authors, authors whom I search for in the books shelves. Some of his works (such as his endless alternate history series) are rather tedious. However his series, the Tale of Krispos, is quite enjoyable. There are three volumes, Krispos Rising, Krispos of Videssos, and Krispos Emperor. It is one of three cycles set in Videssos, the Videssos cycle, the Time of Troubles, and the Tale of Krispos.

Turtledove has a degree in Byzantine history; he is obviously a lover of Byzantium and has drawn on it for his Agent of Byzantium stories and the Videssos Cycle. The Agent of Byzantium series take place in an alternate universe in which Mohammed became a Christian saint and Byzantium did not fall.

I do not know what they teach of history in the schools today -- from what I gather, it is precious little. But, when I went to school, quite some time ago, Byzantium was a minor footnote, easily overlooked. It was much later that I realized that the Roman Empire did not fall circa 450 AD but that it continued on for another 1000 years. The histories told much of barbarians of the West; they said little of of a Golden city at the far end of Europe, capital of an Empire that dated back into antiquity, the only real civilization in a sea of European barbarism.

The Videssos cycle is a four volume series about a Roman legion and its commander who get pitched into another world. Videssos is very much Byzantium, with the signal difference that it did not fall, and the world of Videssos is one in which magic works.

In the Videssos cycle the Empire is racked by civil war, and is beset by a malignant 850 year old sorceror who is dedicated to the God of Evil. A few lines towards the end of the last volume provide the occasion for the Tale of Krispos:

"That is worse. But it being so, much of what has passed in the intervening centuries makes better sense -- just as one example, the savage behavior of the Haloga mercenary troops that crossed the Astris in the reign of Anthimos III five hundred years ago -- though I would still say Anthimos' antics had much to do with the success they enjoyed until Krispos gained the throne a few years later."
The Tale of Krispos is the story behind those lines. In the first volume Krispos rises from a boyhood as a peasant to gain the Imperial throne. This is something that happens now and then in the history of empires, albeit rarely. The usual path for such rises is via the military; an able soldier can rise to be a general, and imperial dynasties are regularly overthrown by able generals. Krispos, however, rose by becoming the protege of increasingly powerful protectors. The first book ends with his crowning as Avtokrator.

The second volume is the story of his first two years as Emperor; eventful years since he had to beat down a rebellion by the uncle of Anthimos and had to fight and beat said Sorceror (only 300 years into his war against Videssos.) In essence Krispos of Videssos is a story of what happens immediately after the Happy Ending. The upstart Emperor had to establish the legitimacy of his reign, defeating challengers from within, and challengers from without.

The third volume, Krispos Emperor, is set some decades later; the plot centers around a religious movement instigated by a foreign power, and about a crisis of conscience on the part of his heir. The third volume is a tale of the last task that each strong ruler must face, that of passing power onto his successor. This book is told from two viewpoints, that of Krispos, and that of his heir, The Tale of Krispos.

On the whole, the Tale of Krispos, is more enjoyable IMHO than the Videssos cycle. It is an essentially simpler tale. In the Videssos cycle there are so many people and so many threads going on that it is a bit wearisome to keep track of it all -- rather like War And Peace. Krispos Rising is, of course, the classic story of the unknown youth who rise to the highest place. It is a conventional theme that bears retelling again; one of the merits of Turtledove's treatment is that the rise is thoroughly plausible. My understanding is that analogous rises occured in Byzantium.


This page was last updated October 1, 2005.

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Hyde County, South Dakota is the Pin Tail Duck Capital of the world. Visit scenic Highmore, SD in 2005!