Storm (Avenging Africanus, 2015, etc.) delivers the third book in a historical-fiction series about Byzantine emperor Justinian I’s attempts to reconquer Roman lands.
After successful forays in Africa, including the quelling of a rebellion in which “the mutineers saw his face [and] they lost spirit,” Roman Gen. Belisarius is back again. This time his mission is described quite simply: “Caesar required him in Italy.” Rome, having fallen to the Vandals nearly a century before, is now eyed by the emperor Justinian I. The successful re-conquering of Rome would, after all, be quite the crown jewel for the Byzantine ruler, despite the fact that such action may compromise his safety at home. What, though, is Justinian I if not ambitious? With a rank of Magister Militum and outnumbered forces, Belisarius is charged with a seemingly impossible task of defense. But what is Belisarius if not a genius of military strategy? This historical fiction is majestic indeed. However, it’s also prone to hyperbolic language and sentiment (one woman, for example, is described thusly: “To say that she was beautiful, positively angelic, was to sully her”). The book also has its share of action and behind-the-scenes maneuvering. But although Belisarius’ adventures will certainly provide excitement for those unfamiliar with them, it often lacks nuanced characterization. The story progresses smoothly, but it does so with deep adoration for Belisarius (“Not even the stray dogs that circled the General’s headquarters moved—every living creature looked to Belisarius who finally spoke so quietly all strained to hear”). Brave, noble, and able to adapt Hun technology and discourage deserters with his mere presence, Belisarius is a hero writ large.
A grand conclusion to an epic trilogy about a general who seemed incapable of fighting for anything less than the ultimate glory of Rome.