This fantasy debut finds a Roman legion battling a dragon at Carthage in 147 B.C.E.
Regulus Marcus Atilius is the supreme commander of Rome’s 7th Legion. He and his second-in-command, Gen. Han Xing, have stationed their forces outside of fortified Carthage, attempting to crush the empire’s longtime enemy. Han’s spies discover that the Carthaginians plan to sacrifice infants during the full moon to access power from a dark god. Disgusted, Regulus is determined to stop the ritual. An eight-man team of combat specialists infiltrates Carthage through its sewers and attacks the chambers of Asdrubal, high priest of Baal. Though the band rescues a slave, Miriam, and her infant son, Issur, the Romans ultimately fail to stop other sacrifices. A magical storm delivers a dragon, which Asdrubal controls mentally. Never one to lead from the back, Regulus joins the fray and is burned badly by the dragon’s fire. The legion itself nearly succumbs to the beast until Othniyel, a Jewish soldier, blows his shofar, a trumpet that can “engage dark forces.” The shofar, combined with physical assaults, sends Asdrubal and the dragon into temporary retreat. Meanwhile, Regulus convalesces with the aid of Miriam’s honey potion and singing. His dream of the Prophet Eliasz (Elijah) is no coincidence, and the leader begins training to fight a more spiritual war. In this energetic novel, Ellis gives readers exactly what his title advertises, aided by crackling narrative turns and historical details. During philosophical moments, his prose can be effectively blunt, as when Han asserts: “What we worship determines who we are and can become. Or perhaps it works the other way.” The dragon, always thrillingly depicted, is “like bombardier beetles,” creating “hydrogen peroxide and other explosive gases inside his body...to produce a boiling, toxic blaze.” The author emphasizes that Regulus and his legion adopt the best from every culture, and this openness carries the day. Light romantic touches round out the narrative, and a winking final line should make even hardened genre fans smile while clamoring for a sequel.
A playful, action-packed alternate history tale.