The last three emperors of old Byzantium prove themselves anything but ?erene in this involved historical novel more laden with history than fiction. From 1081 to 1185, the Lords John, Manuel, and Andronicus lay waste the powerful Comneni dynasty in a series of extravagant campaigns against the ready supply of Constantinople's enemies. John the Good kept wise enough vigilance over the vast Middle Eastern Empire, but Manuel dedicated himself with Justinian fervor to violence and futile bellicosities. Milk-fed by court astrologers, he waged endless ""propitious"" battles against Turks, Egyptians, and the Western Crusaders rampant at the time. Even the well-intentioned reforms of his cousin and tyrant successor, Andronicus, could not salvage the Comneni power; he died in the Hippodrome, tortured by the invading Normans. The descending course of the three Cosmocrators is chronicled here by a loyal official in the Court of Constantine. While the rulers themselves remain impersonal caricatures of folly, the narrator Demetrius is the only character that comes alive and seems to have a clear head. A tableau of battles, military, theological, familiar, the book manages to take most of the wonder out of the word Byzantium and is for the more assiduous reader in the genre.