Rome, 368 a.d.: slashing blades, snorting steeds, star-crossed lovers, an Iago-like villain: page-turning stuff.
It’s “the dusk,” that period when, after a thousand-plus years, the mighty empire is looking a bit wobbly. Two centuries earlier, Hadrian’s Wall was built to keep Romans separate and safe, and to give them a launching pad for bloody wars of subjugation. Now, to certain long-suffering Celts (of Brittania and Caledonia), the Roman threat is beginning to seem less formidable. Perhaps, at last, payback time looms. A major impediment to Celtic hopes, however, is a black-hearted senior tribune by the name of Galba Brassidias: fiendishly clever, endlessly ambitious, and absolutely unencumbered by anything resembling a scruple. Head of the ferocious Petriana cavalry, he has “served on the Wall” almost all his life, become famous as a fighter, and earned Rome’s grateful thanks but—and here’s the rub—not her rewards, at least not in full measure. And the why of that has caused a kind of sociopathic smoldering now waiting to be fanned into full-out rage. Galba is convinced that he’s been denied preferment because of his birth—non-Roman and non-patrician. He’s right. Incontrovertible proof arrives at the Wall in the persons of scholarly (not soldierly) Marcus Flavius and his betrothed, the sprightly, stunning Lady Valeria, bluebloods to their eyeteeth. Marcus, impeccably connected politically, supercedes Galba as commander of the Petriana—an obviously volatile status quo, though cunning Galba pretends acquiescence. Seeing opportunity in chaos, he sets about creating same, giving rise to a fateful chain of events. In the meantime, Valeria will fall in love with an equally headstrong Celtic chieftain, and Rome, shaken by a corrosive, Galba-generated war, will be at least a step closer to being sackable.
Lively, authoritative, and edifying, though it does go a bit soapy toward the end. Still, the best yet from Dietrich (Dark Winter, 2001, etc.).