A familiar New Testament tale told from an unfamiliar point of view.
Proud, loyal Roman centurion Ceconi, the central character in this well-done novella, is the son of a man who grew wealthy working on the estate of a prosperous Roman senator. Fuller expertly and smoothly evokes the historical details of first-century life in a Roman legion; readers will be drawn right away into the logistics of a march in-country, or the power-jockeying in the ranks of the army. He draws the larger political world equally well, as the senator deals regularly with the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate, who in turn owes his career advancement to Sejanus, the ambitious right-hand man of the emperor Tiberius back in Rome. The senator’s wily friends have arranged for Ceconi to be transferred to a legion in Judea, so he’ll be well-placed to spy on Pilate. Ceconi, a follower of the religion of Mithras, is secretly unmoved by their scheming (“he felt like he served Rome, not her rulers”), but he accepts the transfer, moving his wife and his cherished daughter Careaga to the governor’s palace at Caesarea. The Palestine countryside rings with reports of a charismatic preacher who draws large crowds and is said to work miracles, but Ceconi has little time to listen to such stories, because he’s immediately put to work eradicating nests of seditious Zealots. Fuller effectively handles several tense action scenes and sharpens Ceconi’s personality as the story goes on; the centurion is aggressive with his men (and against his enemies) and affectionate at home. But as readers familiar with the New Testament may have guessed, the story inevitably comes back around to that Nazarene preacher—especially when Ceconi exhausts all other remedies for his gravely ill daughter. The author also gives a knowing twist to a well-known scene in Matthew 8:9, in which a Roman soldier asks Jesus to heal his servant, and to a famous moment during the Crucifixion. Fuller handles it all with considerable grace and economy.
A fine piece of historical fiction about a Roman officer encountering a power that’s stronger than the Empire.