The author has valiantly chosen an underutilized setting for this wearying historical novel -- the Rus (Scandinavian) trade route from the north countries to the city of Byzantium (Constantinople) in the 11th century. Norwegian Eric is forced to leave his homeland after a violent confrontation with his half brother Ulf the Proud -- about to marry the lovely young Signy who is attracted to Eric. Signy is a Christian and faithfully attended by the Irish priest Father Gilles, humble yet resilient, who carries his Bible around with him (in this era of monastery.produced Scripture he must have needed a goat cart). Eric, Signy, Gilles and a trader arrive eventually in Byzantium, where Eric, who physically resembles the imprisoned Harald of Norway, attracts the interest of the Empress Zoe and is the instrument of Harald's release. A Tartar girl spy, also in love with Eric, dies, but her dog's collar contains the secret ""recipe"" for ""Greek fire"" -- the longed-for weapon. Among the historical personages: Harald, Zoe, Prince Yaroslav and even Harald's dwarf, Tutu. Here they're a colorless crowd -- and Tutu too.