Constantinople of the sixth century A.D. lives, breathes, and flourishes in this new novel by the author of an Arthurian trilogy (begun with Hawk of May, 1980) and one previous story set in Constantinople (The Beacon at Alexandria, 1986). John, son of Diodoras of Bostra in the province of Arabia, arrives at the court of Emperor Justinian. Young, handsome, and capable in accounting, shorthand, and languages, John becomes secretary to a powerful eunuch and unravels the imperial filing system, which is ""enormous, cumberous, and complex."" But his real mission is to recover his mother, who happens to be the stunning Empress Theodora, a woman whose humble roots and tenure as a prostitute have won her the sobriquet ""Bearkeeper's Daughter."" Theodora does acknowledge her (illegitimate) son privately, but tells Emperor Justinian that John is her cousin. John's rise in the military and his title, count, flow both from Theodora's patronage and from his own extraordinary talent. But, in the end, all threatens to collapse when Theodora lies ill on her deathbed, Justinian learns the truth, and John declares his deepest love to Euphemia, daughter of an exiled politician. Poetically clear and carefully researched, with an energy that carries it right along.