This is a book set in a most unusual period of history. Over the years I have read lots of books set in ancient Rome, but almost all of them are set in the final days of the Republic, Julius Caesar and all that. Occasionally there may be a book set in the time of the early emperors. Caligula and Nero are always fun.
Blake has set this book, the first of a trilogy, in the Dark Ages. Rome has been sacked by various barbarian tribes, the buildings are in ruins, the city services destroyed, and yet it is still one of largest cities in the world with an elite trying to pretend that the Empire is still there. The Catholic Church is just beginning to establish a power base in Rome and the English Catholic Church was in its infancy. Blake’s hero, Aelric, is a young Brit, highly intelligent, talented linguist, but not all that socially adept. After Aelric offends King Ethelbert, the bishop decides to send him to Rome in the company of another priest to gather books for the new library in Canterbury.
However, one Aelric arrives in Rome life gets a lot more interesting. He is involved in rescuing sacred relics from thieves and robbing those same thieves of a great deal of gold just before he arrives in the city. All this sudden wealth attracts unwanted attention from both the civil authorities and the church leadership. And then there is the Column of Phodas, multiple murders and even a good ration of heresy.
From this summary it may sound like this book is really only for the specialist reader. However, I found it fascinating. The mystery stayed confusing enough to keep me turning pages. There is enough swordplay to keep the adventure readers going. The sacrifices and ancient religions add a touch of horror. And sorry, but I even found the philosophy discussions interesting. I will be looking forward to more from this author.
Reviewed on Lowly’s Book Blog
7th April 2008
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