A Roman general’s fate intersects with those of a disparate group of soldiers, clergy, and royalty in Prill’s debut.
In the year 372, Gen. Marcus Augustus Valerias leads his men with an iron fist and an unwavering loyalty to the Roman Empire. He relies on a small, devoted inner circle to help him maintain order over his men. They include his second- and third-in-command, Braxus and Cratus, respectively; his bodyguard, Bukarma; intelligence officer Revious; physician Olivertos; and chief administrator Jacob. When soldiers capture a Christian priest named Joseph along with a renegade band of Goths, Jacob’s surprise intervention spares him from Valerias’ brand of justice. Eventually, Joseph becomes an assistant to both Jacob and Olivertos, impressing Valerias with his skill and ability to learn new tasks. After Jacob’s death, Valerias contemplates his life and storied military career and comes to a pivotal decision. At the age of 45, having spent more than 30 years in the army, he’s ready to retire to Britannia; however, his retirement won’t be as simple as turning control of his army over to Braxus and Cratus. Valerias’ destiny becomes intertwined with those of Joseph; Claire, a widowed queen fleeing an arranged marriage; and Huns Uldric and Rao, fraternal twins whose ambitions seem limitless. Epic in scope, Prill’s expansive narrative boasts a large cast of characters whose lives connect at several different junctures in the story. The chief protagonist, Valerias, is a dynamic, forceful figure whose journey gives the narrative weight and gravitas. He finds an ideal complement in Claire, a loyal queen committed to protecting her children from the man who caused the death of her husband. The supporting characters are equally well-developed—particularly Joseph, a one-time food merchant and physician who finds strength and purpose in his Christian faith. The narrative is long, but Prill’s sturdy, workmanlike prose is sharp, and the story moves at a brisk pace. The detailed settings add another strong dimension to the novel, giving life and vitality to both the Roman Empire and Britannia.
A satisfying historical novel with richly drawn characters and vivid settings.