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 The Holy Roman Empire is the setting for another historical romance from Tarr (Throne of Isis, 1994, etc.), this one focusing on the Byzantine princess who ruled the empire from 983994 as regent for her son, Otto III. Theophano, daughter of the Byzantine Emperor, doesn't seem to have much of a future: Her father murdered, her mother set aside by the new emperor, the best she might hope for is a quiet life in a convent. So when ambassadors arrive from the west, seeking a wife for the heir to the Holy Roman Empire, Theophano sees her escape. Accompanied by Aspasia--her aunt, mentor, advisor--she leaves Constantinople for Rome and weds Otto II. Meanwhile, Theophano's training as a queen, her mother-in-law troubles, and peregrinations around the Empire are chronicled by Aspasia, who describes herself as plain but seems regularly to draw the attention of men--among them Moorish physician Ismail, who becomes her clandestine lover, a dangerous alliance in a Christian empire. As Otto's rule is threatened by his cousin Henry the Quarreller, Theophano's power increases: Her mother-in-law is banished for supporting Henry's claim to the throne, and Theophano is entrusted with Otto's heir, Otto III, and with the court. Then, after word comes that Otto is dead in Rome, three-year-old Otto III becomes emperor, and the battle for his regency ensues. It's awarded to Theophano, and Henry responds by laying siege to Cologne and kidnapping the child- emperor from Aspasia and Ismail. The race to line up military and ecclesiastical support for Theophano is punctuated with theological musings by Aspasia--but the peace that she brokers between Henry and Theophano is more successful than any she'll find between her culture and her lover's. A strangely stolid tale, relieved by attention to cultural detail and rescued by the fictional characters. (2 maps, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-312-85819-1
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Forge
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1995


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