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The story is about a young man growing up in a world at war, seeking, through philosophy or through love, to get free from the darkness of his past.

It takes place in C15 Greece (and Italy). It describes the struggles of Southern Greece to remain free from both Turkish and Western control. The story is told by John Asan Zaccaria, son of the erstwhile Baron of Arcadia, who has spent his childhood and early teens in prison with his father. He tells of his role in the resistance, in the diplomatic dealings with the Turks and Venetians, the final collapse of Byzantine rule, his escape from Greece to Italy, the continued fighting between Venetians and Turks, and the final desperate attempts of Greek freedom fighters. A dominant figure in the story, though in fact he dies before the action starts, is Gemisto Pletho, philosopher and patriot. The narrator becomes a member of the ‘Plethonista’ community in the mountains of Southern Greece. The story culminates in the death of Zaccaria’s lover Nigella at the hands of zealots within the community and the collapse of the community.

One continuing theme is the narrator’s emergence from the world of darkness in which he was brought up, and his struggles to relate to the people and events of the world outside him. An aspect of this is his search for a philosophy of life, which becomes a conflict between the ‘clear light’ of Gemisto’s rational system and the more opaque world of suffering and emotion which the narrator has himself experienced. He discovers how ‘reason’ can turn to dogmatism, and dogmatism to fundamentalism.

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