Barone’s lusty debut recreates the valiant defense of a proto-Mesopotamian city against barbarian invaders.
By the fourth century b.c., the marauding northern-steppes clan of Alur Meriki periodically raids the cities of so-called dirt-eaters along the Tigris to obtain slaves and supplies for its warriors. One such city, Orak, grown prosperous on the eastern bank of the Tigris and alarmed by reports that the Alur Meriki are preparing to return, decides to take its defense into its own hands. Village leader Nicar appoints Eskkar, a capable though unproven émigré warrior, to condition the men for war and come up with a defense plan. He concocts the brilliant idea of constructing a wall around the village made of fireproof mud and bricks, as well as enlisting all men and women into training and preparation. In his new role as captain of the guard, Eskkar is given a teenaged slave girl as companion. Trella proves canny, loyal and invaluable in strategic planning and diplomacy. Her master grows to love her as an equal, and Trella’s ambition of raising her stature in the village is fulfilled when Eskkar makes her his wife. In six months, the mighty wall is completed, the weapons hammered from bronze (a material more reliable than flint), the warriors trained to fight and an assassination attempt foiled. The townspeople have entrusted themselves entirely to Eskkar and Trella, who reign like king and queen and plan to form a new dynasty when—or rather if—the barbarians are driven away. For the duration of this well-crafted work, Barone contains the action within the preparations for battle and dwells on the bedroom diplomacy of the two protagonists. The imminent raid by the barbarians creates an inherent, delicious sense of tension throughout, until the final unleashing of pure, bloody slaughter.
A Bronze Age historical romance with brains as well as brawn, ripe for a sequel.