The second installment in Storm’s (From Africanus, 2015, etc.) historical-fiction trilogy about Byzantine aspirations abroad.
It is June 455 BCE, Roman emperor Petronius Maximus been murdered, and Rome is in great danger. With King Gaiseric and his Vandals literally at the gates of the city, the only hope comes from Pope Leo I and his ability to negotiate. He manages to talk the barbarians down to a mere sacking as opposed to an all-out slaughter; nonetheless, the Vandals plunder Rome for “fourteen days and fourteen nights.” It’s a tragic time for the once-great Romans, and it’s also an event that’s not forgotten in Constantinople. Fast-forward to the reign of Justinian I, emperor of Byzantium. Gen. Belisarius, who helped the Roman emperor contain the Nika Riots in the first book of this series, is sent with “the largest fleet Rome had assembled in over a century” to Caput Vada and beyond. His wife Antonina comes along as well, “like a falcon to the hunt,” and all parties seem ready for a historically epic conflict. Jam-packed with factual intrigue, most readers will certainly learn a lot about this often neglected period in history. Those with a cursory understanding of ancient Rome will likely know of Carthage from the days of the Punic Wars, but what of the city’s standing in the centuries that followed? That said, the dissemination of such information can periodically take on the tone of a lecture, if not a textbook, as when a character asks aloud, “Why were the Vandals and Goths so different? Why was their arrival so destructive?” However, much of the story is well-paced, avoiding the tangents that often plague accounts of bygone eras.
Part history lesson, part dramatic interpretation, this narrative sheds light on a time of fascinating conflict.