Another doorstopper-size continuation of Harlan’s overheated, overplotted, overpopulated but unusually fascinating epic about power and magic in the seventh century, that, with another volume in the works, is not over yet. When a bunch of ragtag desert vandals led by Mohammed—yes, that Mohammed—summons up a windstorm that literally blows away thousands of Eastern Imperial troops, and their attendant sorcerers, the entire Late Classical world, from the Gothic forests along the Danube to the Scythian plains of Kazak. Has Constantinople so sadly lost its mojo that the scheming Persians can finally conquer it? Meanwhile, the Western Empire in Rome has been hobbled by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that, thanks to fate (who is that badly burned amnesiac woman who has fallen in with a band of traveling acrobats?), and the dark sorcery of Western Imperial Prince Maxian, who used his eerie powers to resurrect Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great from their graves in Gate of Fire (2000), hasn’t killed off quite as many characters as Harlan’s editor may have hoped. With every high-fantasy plot trick possible—mixed-up paternity, forbidden fruits, strange quests, miraculous devices that allow the magically inclined to perform the tricks of gods—and a sweeping knowledge of the Late Classical art and battle garb, Harlan keeps his mighty saga flowing toward a cataclysmic attack on Contantinople.
Pocked with melodramatic dialogue (“Tiamat’s dugs, you fool!” swears a pompous prince) and gross-out gore, Harlan’s thwarted, intelligent, and rather clever main characters, say, the first dozen or so, remain compelling.