Book Review: A Place Called Armageddon by CC Humphreys
As soon as I saw the cover of CC Humphreys latest book, A Place Called Armageddon, I knew I was going to buy it. I love historical fiction books about famous battles, especially ones set in medieval periods. Just looking at my collection of Bernard Cornwell books about the period will confirm that pretty quickly.
As it happens, I first saw this book whilst I was selling it at a special table in the back of the main ballroom during Day 1 of the PNWA Conference last summer. I had met Chris a couple of times prior to the conference, and talked to him quite a few times while I was behind the desk and wandering about the conference, but somehow getting this copy signed eluded me. Now I really wish I had. This book is spectacular.
In 1453 AD, the Turks, led by Mehmet II arrive outside of the walls of one of the most famous cities in all of history: Constantinople. The city is just a shell of it’s once great self. Much of the population has left. Emperor Constantine, the last emperor of the Byzantine Empire, must pull together small bands of defenders from rival factions – the Greeks, the Genoans, and the Venetians – to save the city from the attacking Muslim legions who outnumber the men on the walls ten to one.
The story follows two brothers, Gregoras and Theon Lascaris as they are dragged forward towards a climactic battle to save the city. Gregoras and Theon have a history that barely allows them to call each other brother. One has been branded a traitor, and holds the other accountable. At the same time, we see Mehmet The Conqueror, one of his closest advisors, Hamza Bey, and a simple farmer, Achmed, as they prepare to attack. All of them are linked together through one woman, a fortune teller who sees greatness before them all, and death close on their heels.
A Place Called Armageddon is not a light read. It’s 459 very dense pages of Literary-Historical-Fiction. The battle, as Humphreys notes in at the end of the book, was huge and would have filled volumes in and of itself. Humphreys placed as many facts in the book as possible, and then wrapped memorable characters and fascinating relationships around the history. Just for history and the plot alone, this book is worth reading.
But if you read the book just for history and plot, you would be missing something – perhaps the best thing about the book. There are good books with hum-drum words and adequate stories. This book is written with prose. Every scene is crafted with an eye for pace, a feel for flow and an ear for rhythm, as if the stage actor in Chris was reading every word on a stage in one of London’s West End Theatres (where he once performed). The words are mesmerizing and beautiful and hand-crafted to be perfect in every syllable. I’ve never bought an audio book in my life, but I would easily buy this one if Chris does the reading.
A Place Called Armageddon is one of the great books of the year. The copy I have is from the UK, and I know it was released in Canada in mid-August 2011. I’m not sure of the US release date. Hopefully it gets the recognition it deserves and is read by a wide and enthusiastic audience around the world. If you like historical fiction and tales of great battles and great bravery, this should be on your must-read list.