In this historical novel set in the last days of Imperial Rome, a senator comes up with a bold plan to keep the barbarian hordes to the north at bay.
In the year 372, the Roman Empire is governed from its two capitals of Rome and Constantinople, and it’s under siege on all sides. Fifty-five-year-old senator Marcus Tarquinii, one of the wealthiest men in Rome, goes to co-emperor Valentinian with an ingenious plan to save the empire by creating an autonomous Roman Federation, which can wage war on the barbarians in the far north—the Vandals, Goths and Franks—and create fortified settlements there. Once the emperor approves this plan, Marcus’ son, Scipio Tarquinii, is declared the governor of the new province of Raetia on the Danube and given several Roman legions with which to implement the scheme. Marcus and Scipio push through their initiative, with allies as diverse as Gaius Drusus, commanding general of the Raetian legions, and Sheik Ali Mustapha, leader of the Saracens and trainer of spies and assassins. But when Valentinian dies, a cabal of generals led by the scheming Merobaudes plots to take the empire away from his heirs. In the end, it’s up to Maeve, a Vandal princess and Scipio’s mistress, to save the day. Overall, this debut novel is as well-researched as a historical work of fiction can possibly be. Unfortunately, its many discourses on the military strategies, politics and economics of the late Roman Empire often read like position papers written by a fourth-century policy wonk. To make matters worse, the novel places this information in the mouths of one-dimensional characters, many of whom are based on historical figures. Unlike Lindsey Davis’ Didius Falco mystery series, which manages to make ancient Rome come alive, this novel smothers its narrative under an avalanche of research.
An epic novel that reads more like a narrated history than an immersive story with flesh-and-blood characters.