"A grand tale reminiscent of old Hollywood epics with their immense casts, dedicated heroes, and doe-eyed maidens."– Kirkus Reviews
A startling archaeological discovery leads to the revelation of a lost world.
In this latest historical fantasy from Baren (The Canary in the Mine, 2015, etc.), a new archaeological find rocks the personal and professional lives of the teammates who uncovered it. Dominique Saint-Angel and Guy Thériot-Massat are part of an expedition that’s detected the ruins of a vast sunken city resting a mile and a half underwater off the northern coast of Tunisia. The location suggests Carthage, the ancient Phoenician rival to the growing state of Rome, but the artifacts from the submerged city are many thousands of years older than the era of Carthage. Dominique and Guy are deeply, passionately in love, but Dominique’s growing obsession with the relics begins to drive a wedge between them. And in the midst of her researches, Dominique begins to have a series of highly detailed dreams showing her the long story of the ancient realm whose remains the team encountered. She experiences the dream of the god Ptaath and his eldest son, Psoth, a radiant figure who degenerates into a Satan-like blight on humanity. There follows a long historical novel of the ancient rulers of this lost dominion, embedded in the larger framework of the present-day archaeological party examining its remains. The fantasy Baren creates in this extended flashback makes for exotic and very inviting reading, full of strong male and female characters and intelligently interwoven supernatural elements. The author cannily uses the ancient and modern narratives to echo and reinforce each other and deftly teases out the suspense of what readers already know: that the ancient land they’re reading about is doomed to a quickly approaching destruction. The dialogue in both narratives can be a bit stilted (this will likely be the first 21st-century book most readers have ever perused that uses phrases like “Oh horrors!” unironically). But Baren’s ear for high-tension prose remains sound, and the pacing of the inserted ancient story turns out to be consistently page-turning.
A tale about an underwater city that delivers a sensuous and gripping historical fantasy wrapped inside a contemporary romance.
Baren’s (The Canary in the Mine, 2015, etc.) epic novel traces momentous events in imperial Byzantium.
It is the year 587 when young Romulus, seated in the Church of Saint Sophia, has visions of a soldier engaged in a fierce battle: “He sliced and cut furiously, his sword flashing crimson, against four enemy warriors clothed in dark rough animal hides.” The son of a successful weapon maker, Romulus shows great interest in military subjects as he goes about an education involving “physical exercise and in subjects such as Roman mythology, philosophy, the Roman classics and rhetoric.” Yet he’s coming of age in a time of unrest: “Too many things are not right....Too many....Disagreeable rumors from the army....Even worse corruption than usual in the Government’s Procurement Offices,” as one character remarks. (Readers familiar with the time period will know that Maurice, the emperor of Romulus’ youth, has a difficult, ill-fated rule.) As Romulus rises to prominence and attracts the attention of young women like Zenianthe, a girl who “blushed very prettily,” and Lydia, whose “splendid blue eyes were large and brilliant,” his future seems sure to be one of conflicts both physical and romantic. Readers are told in no uncertain terms that “Byzantium’s history was not without its lively moments,” and neither is this information-packed fictional account. It’s full of all the bloodshed one might expect from the time period, with violence including an unsuccessful bid of rioters who “screamed and shrieked as they struggled desperately against those pushing them into the Guards’ stabbing pikes.” Severed heads also make an appearance, and one emperor is said to show “a poorly-concealed deranged bloodlust at each successive murder.” Love interests tend to be clumsier, falling into melodrama, as when one young woman explains to her mother, “I love him, but I have such strong passions for him....Is this what it is to be in love?” Readers excited by the setting will nevertheless find themselves eager to see how Romulus fares in such a historically significant time.
A grand tale reminiscent of old Hollywood epics with their immense casts, dedicated heroes, and doe-eyed maidens.