The author, with a curious Gallic precision which contains a latent irony, has ransacked the field of historical scholarship to produce a composite fictional history of an archetypal Dark Ages hero-ruler and his Eurasian kingdom. In a style which deflates the windy intonations of historians, the author tells of the orion of the ""Empire:"" ""Right down to our own day, men's hearts and imaginations have been fired by the story of the rival brothers. . . ."" After an academic crabwalk through a brief parade of warriors, rulers, and priests, the author arrives at his Alexander-Genghis Khan-Arthur-what have you -- Alexis -- and recounts his childhood in the northern forests with its intuitions of ambition and violence; a period of youthful sin and debauchery; the spiritual quest in far lands; and then the call homeward and destiny. As to the character of Alexis, the author expands contrapuntally: ""patience combined with energy, friendship with violence, realism with imagination, soundest intellect with the promptest and even the most brutal action."" Alexis returns a stranger and eventually, as Emperor, annexes most of the civilized world, to retire at last, alone, into the mists forever. D'Ormesson provides witty fictional documentation, parodies opinions of historians and literati (there is a one-line parody of Walt Whitman), borrows outrageously and has caught brilliantly the ""Where is Nineveh now?"" tone of sunset reflection. A tour de force, with an audience so special that this little jewel may just wink unseen.