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Sheen on the Silk [Paperback]

Anne Perry
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A surprise Nov. 19 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Having read most of Anne Perry's books, this was the first one that was a disappointment. Didn't like the story, or characters and felt the story did not flow well.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Anne Perry Sept. 30 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
this book is a little different from Anne Perry characters but still a good reads.I do like her styles and a different setting
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast-paced, atmospheric novel March 26 2011
By Joanna
Format:Paperback
This is one action-packed, fast-paced, and atmospheric novel. There is love, mystery, plenty of intrigue, and vivid characters. It also deals with a deeper issue of Constantinople having to accept Western (Roman) Christianity in order to avoid being invaded by the Crusader army, which gives rise to all kinds of philosophical musings and ideals. Highly recommended!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars `Trust your enemies, if you know who they are.' June 18 2010
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
This novel opens in 1273, almost seventy years after the sacking of Constantinople during the fourth crusade. The war-ravaged Byzantine Empire is still living with the consequences of the fourth crusade, and is again under threat. In order to avoid another sacking of Constantinople, the Emperor Michael Palaeologus is trying to unite the Greek (Orthodox) and Latin (Catholic) Churches. This is the brief historical background to the novel, and sets the scene for the intrigue and unrest that we see mainly through the eyes of the fictional eyes of Anna Zarides.

Anna Zarides, disguised as a eunuch named Anastasius, is a skilled physician learned in Jewish and Muslim medicine. Anna has travelled to Constantinople to discover why her twin brother Justinian has been implicated in the murder of Bessarion. Disguised as Anastasius, Anna has access to people and to knowledge that would be unavailable to her as a woman: eunuchs have their own power and invisibility in Constantinople.

`The character of eunuchs was like the sheen on the silk - fluid, unpredictable. A third gender, male and female yet neither.'

This is a sprawling and at times convoluted story as befits the period in which it is set and the events it depicts. Intrigue, politics and religion each have a role and some knowledge of the history helps in order to understand the tensions and power struggles between various groups.
I enjoyed this novel, but more because of the setting than because of Anna's quest for the truth of her brother's involvement in Bessarion's murder. I found the fictional component interesting rather than compelling, but the setting was magnificent.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  111 reviews
80 of 87 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much of a departure from previous writings for me. Feb. 15 2010
By J. Lesley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I've been a fan of the writings of Anne Perry for a long time now. I enjoy her Victorian mystery series, especially the Thomas Pitt books, because she has so much talent for taking me into another time period and making me see the lives of her characters. Even though this particular book was set in a completely different time and place I had expected to enjoy it just as much. Sadly for me, that was not the case. This was a book that I struggled to read, in fact I pushed myself to finish it because I kept hoping I would find that Anne Perry spark that I recognized.

Anna Zarides has made her way to Constantinople to find her twin brother Justinian. Once there she discovered that Justinian had been involved in a plot to kill the emperor and has been banished to the Sinai desert. Was he guilty of the crime? If so, why banishment instead of death? Is he still alive? Sound like a good mystery? Well, it might have been if this book could have decided that it wanted to be a mystery. Instead it wavered back and forth between mystery and historical fiction epic with the fate of her brother definitely taking a back seat for most of the novel. In order to investigate his whereabouts it was necessary for Anna to disguise herself as the eunuch Anastasius. It seems Anna could use her skills as a physician only if she were a eunuch, not a female. I thought that the author set herself up for some very difficult storytelling by using that device, but maybe it would have worked if I had ever felt really passionate about Anna or Anastasius. Frankly, I didn't care for either of them because they seemed almost bland, as if they were the background and the story was taking place in spite of them being there. Anna had the most incredible luck to settle in a city where she knew absolutely no other person and yet become personal physician to every important personage in that city. Quite an accomplishment. And months and months pass while Anna/Anastasius is establishing her medical practice and becoming embroiled with religious politics with no progress being made on finding out anything about her brother. There are plots within plots and sub-plots within those plots also. And many, many characters.

The novel probably will be enjoyed more by readers of historical fiction because the main emphasis of the story is always centered on the political wranglings between the rulers of Constantinople and Rome. Between the Roman Catholic Church represented by the Pope then in power and the emperor of the Byzantine empire. Between the different factions in Constantinople who all have their own agendas and are willing to do any kind of malicious act to arrive at their hoped for result. It was just too much of a departure from previous books I've read by this author for me to enjoy it. Plus I honestly found it dull.
40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too broad in scope March 16 2010
By Bookphile - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The Sheen on the Silk is a very ambitious novel. It tells the dramatic tale of Constantinople in the 1200's, which is on the brink of being invaded once again by Crusaders. When done well, historical fiction is perhaps my favorite genre to read, because it gives me the sense that I've got a window into the events of the past. However, historical fiction is also a genre that can be something of a minefield because there is a delicate balance that must be struck. Unfortunately, I don't think that Anne Perry was able to strike that balance.

The first thing I notice about a book of this genre is whether the author is able to capture what life was like during the particular time period in which events take place. I felt that Perry did a nice job in this respect. I could imagine what the city must have looked like, what the Hagia Sophia was like, the scents and sounds of the markets, etc. This was one strong point of the novel for me, my sense that Perry enabled me to really step into the shoes of a 13th century Byzantine citizen.

The events of the novel are fairly epic, spanning everything from a woman's quest for revenge to crises of faith on both the parts of the Byzantine Orthodox and Roman Catholic characters. It seemed to me that Perry was trying to capture a pivotal period in time, when the once flourishing culture of Byzantium was beginning to die out, the unfortunate victim of a jealous and avaricious Europe. However, I found the broad scope working to the detriment of the novel. Perry leaps over significant chunks of time with transitions that are quite awkward. Because of this, I occasionally found the novel hard to follow.

However, the biggest disappointment of the book was, for me, the use of the characters. The novel is told from multiple points of view--too many points of view, in my opinion. I felt that too much time was devoted to characters who were less interesting or about whom the reader could have learned just as much through the observations of other characters. This meant that less time was given to the more interesting characters. There were long passages told from Constantine's point of view that seemed as though they could have been cut without sacrificing anything of the narrative thread. Anna makes many observations about him that would have given the reader just as good a sense of his character.

The most underdeveloped character of all was that of Anna. By the end of the book, I felt as if I knew barely anything about her. The book seems to define her mostly within the confines of her determination to bring about justice for her brother, but it never really tells us anything about Anna, herself. The author alludes to Anna's past without giving the reader any real detail about it at all. When Anna's big secret finally is revealed, it is almost anticlimactic, and I felt that the author could have done more with Anna by revealing her secret earlier in the novel and using this to really flesh out the character. Out of all the characters, Anna just didn't ring true for me. The reader is never really given enough information about what makes Anna who she is, and this makes her seem a little too perfect in her reactions to other characters.

On the other hand, I felt Perry did an excellent job of fleshing out the character of Giuliano. He is given a lot of internal dialog and I found his to be the best-drawn character arc. He grows a lot during the course of the novel, and I found him to be very sympathetic. Out of all the characters he was, by far, my favorite.

This is a very uneven novel that I feel would have benefited from some additional editing. The beginning was particularly repetitive at times, with the metaphor of silk being stated so explicitly over and over, it was nearly being pounded into the reader's head. There were passages that simply didn't need to be in the novel, because they didn't advance the plot and provided the reader with no real insight into the characters. I simply couldn't understand why passages like these were included at the expense of some further insight into a character as central to the novel as Anna was.
52 of 57 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-written historical mystery Jan. 29 2010
By Marcy L. Thompson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This is a quite good book of its type. If you enjoy well-written historical mysteries with characters developed as human beings (in addition to their plot roles), you will enjoy this. The historical setting seemed realistic, although I don't know enough about Byzantium to be sure -- let's just say that I didn't see any obvious anachronisms. The city itself is almost as well-developed a character as any of the people in the story. The bibliography suggests that it's at least well-grounded fiction.

The plot is satisfyingly twisty and turny, with alliances shifting in ways that create an almost kaleidoscope effect. The shifting alliances (and seeming alliances) are handled quite deftly. The author sometimes slips in amongst all the action a haunting scene that evokes this very different time and place.

The mystery is sufficiently, uh, mysterious not to be obviously solvable in the first 100 pages. There's a faint religious overtone to the novel that I found both interesting and bit off-putting. The book is by no means a religious tract, or even a philosophical one, but there is something there that tugged at the back of my mind and distracted me a bit. On the whole, I call this a very good novel and a decent mystery.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fluid and unpredictable March 1 2010
By Patricia L. Marks - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This is Anne Perry's first foray into historical fiction and it is a winner. Anastasius/Anna goes to Constantinople to find out about her brother's fate. She is a physician but pretends to be a eunuch. Her skill is much sought after and she finds herself ministering to persons high and low. Her inquiries must be both subtle and fruitful, lest her true identity be revealed. We follow her to Jerusalem,the Sinai desert,and various ports along the Mediteranean coast. We meet a score of interesting, finely etched personalities whom she befriends. She also learns that her enemies wish her downfall, and she has to outwit them. The background period is 13th century Byzantium, Venice and Rome, with French rulers all eager to exercise power over one another. Anastasius is repelled by the thoughts and actions of those drunk with power and influence.She longs for a world where people accept one another and are gentle and tolerant. As a physician she seeks to heal and make whole.Her own sad personal struggles are also part of the mix. These influence her decision to seek safety in being a eunuch.Though she loathes the power of Venice and Rome, she nonetheless finds that she is not the only one repulsed by thinly disguised greed for power and influence. Perry builds the story skillfully and develops her characters satisfactorily. You won't lose with this very satisfying and impressive novel.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sadly, not great Feb. 27 2010
By Ellis Bell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
In The Sheen in the Silk, Anne Perry enters different territory than with her Victorian-era mysteries. Set in Constantinople in the 1270s and `80s, it features the adventures of Anna Zarides, a young woman who goes to the city to investigate a murder supposedly committed by her brother. Anna dresses as a eunuch and poses as a physician, so that she may better conduct her inquiries. All of this is set against a larger struggle between the Eastern Orthodox church and western Christianity.

Oh, dear. I really wanted to like this book. A beautiful setting, an intriguing plot--I thought, how could you go wrong with that? Well, a lot of things. It's not that Anne Perry is a bad writer; it's just that this particular novel wasn't interesting or intriguing enough to make me want to read on. From the get-go, the premise of the book isn't entirely clear; for the first two hundred pages or so, I had a hard time sorting out the characters and what had happened to whom. There also wasn't enough back story to any of the characters from the start, so I was confused for a long time before things began to make some sense.

Another one of the book's problem is that it's a mix of genres, both mystery and epic historical fiction, if you want to call it that. This confused and confusing mix of genres ultimately works against the novel; because it frequently becomes a convoluted mess.

Another thing I didn't like about this book were the characters, especially the main one; it seems as though the author pulled out all the clichés to describe here. How many times before have we seen the enlightened female physician in historical fiction? Also, I thought that Anna was extremely difficult to like as a character, simply because we never got to see her as anything other than cold and clinical. In fact, Anna spends so much time with her patients and not enough time investigating the murder that I began to get bored after a while. Her search is conducted over a number of years, too, which lessened the sense of urgency that make you as the reader want to read on. Anne Perry's descriptions of 13th century Constantinople are gorgeous, and her writing style is very straightforward; but I simply did not connect to any of the characters or the implausible plot for me to continue reading after page 200. It's a shame, because, having read some of her Thomas Pitt novels, I was expecting something much better.
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