Final installment of the four-volume fantasy cycle (Monsters of the Earth, 2013, etc.) featuring another existential threat to Carce, Drake’s analogue of Rome circa 30 C.E.
Gaius Alphenus Saxa, an enormously rich senator and absentee governor of Lusitania, speaks with Corylus, soldier, part-dryad, and best friend of Saxa’s son Varus, regarding a plot against him by a rival senator, Sentius, who seemingly covets a magical object, the Ear of the Satyr, believed to be owned by Saxa. Meanwhile, Saxa’s wife, Hedia, receives a delegation from India whose purpose is to plant a vine shoot in honor of the god Bacchus. Varus, a scholar and magician whose powers derive from visitations by the Sibyl, notices magicians among the delegation and befriends one, Bhiku. From him, Varus learns that their sponsor, King Govinda, another very powerful magician, intends to divert Bacchus’ disruptive visitations from India to Italy. But, it emerges, Govinda’s also meddling in sorceries from Anti-Thule, an ancient city menaced by a purulent, voracious, and unstoppable Blight that converts everything living into evil black slime. Soon, our heroes—Hedia; Varus; Saxa’s feisty young daughter, Alphena; Corylus; and their teacher Pandareus, his role here limited to a handful of dull comments—are severally and together involved in various supernatural adventures, battling demons, consorting with gods, fighting dragons, and outwitting evildoers. This plot in summary sounds reasonable, but the individual elements, while imaginative enough, make little sense, and the narrative manifests in strangely blocky, almost mechanical prose reminiscent of late-issue Piers Anthony. The Classical setting is a big plus, as are the characters, who, by now, have thoroughly familiar personalities.
Should satisfy series regulars. Just about.