The Mosaic of Shadows
By Tom Harper
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Minotaur
The Mosaic of Shadows had a perfect setting, Byzantium, a mystery which I was willing to accept under the guise of historical fiction, and some interesting characters. Unfortunately, the story fell a bit flat for me.
In Byzantium in 1066, an assassin narrowly misses the emperor with an arrow. Knowing the implications if the emperor were to die, the palace wants the assassin found. Demetrios Askiates, a man known for uncovering mysteries, is called to the palace and given orders to uncover the assassin’s plot and catch the would be killer. Demetrios, whose usual cases have to do with finding lost items, ends up in an unknown world dealing with princes, slaves, and mercenaries. When an army summoned by the emperor appears at the city’s walls, the hunt for an assassin takes on a new urgency.
The setting of this book was wonderful but the characters, with the exception of one, weren’t so wonderful. Demetrios is in over his head and doesn’t seem like a person you would hire for this type of job unless you wanted him to fail. He has a family but they’re mostly an afterthought and the love interest is barely thought of until she’s needed. All of this made Demetrios rather unappealing. He was supposed to be a solver of mysteries but he was more like a bumbling detective you would hire to find a cat in a tree. I wanted to like him but I couldn’t find his redeeming value.
Some of the more interesting characters didn’t get developed as much as I would have liked. The Varangians, who guard the emperor, are known for their fierce devotion and fighting abilities and the captain of the emperor’s guard, Sigurd, was a character I would have liked to have seen more of.
The ending, however, was exciting and I was glad that I stuck around for that. Unfortunately, the mystery part of the story didn’t feel much like a mystery for me. The person who “did it” was a person I wanted to see gone anyway so it’s wasn’t much of a surprise when his association with the killer was revealed.
This is the first book in a series and I don’t know if I will be following up with the others. However, if I find out that the Varangian guards are featured, I may change my mind.