Rome in 608 A.D. is a remnant of its former glory. Most of the city is in ruins and in a state of decay. Power is shared between the Urban Prefect, representative of the Roman Emperor Phocas in Constantinople, and the flourishing Roman Christian Church. The Roman Empire has dwindled until Constantinople in the East, besieged by Persia and the rebellious exarch of Africa, and the cities of Rome and Ravenna in Italy are all that remain. The rest of Italy is under the control of the Lombards, originally a Germanic tribe.
Rome itself is the centre of vicious in-fighting and power struggles between Church and State. Into this nest of vipers wanders our hero Aelric, a less than innocent young Saxon noble of the down-at-heel variety, and his mentor, the priest Maximin, on a mission to collect books for the Roman Church in England.
Full of twists and turns and many devious characters, this is a brilliant evocation of a time and place not often found in historical fiction. Aelric is an interesting main character; he’s handsome, clever and insufferably conceited, though redeemed by his great love for books and thirst for knowledge. His cynical and amoral approach to life makes him the perfect servant for the venal and power-hungry clerics of the Roman Church, but is he as clever as he thinks he is?
It’s the first in a series, and I’ll be looking forward to the next episode.
© 2015 – 2017, richardblake.
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