Synopsis (from Goodreads):
“My name is Lucius Aurelius Valens, and I am a soldier in the service of Rome.”
A young Roman officer with a strong sense of justice and duty thwarts corrupt officials plundering the province of Syria and is marked for death. To save his life, he is sent to command a cavalry regiment stationed in ever-restless Judea. He expects only the thankless task of maintaining the Roman peace in a land where he and his soldiers are despised and feared. But this peace is shattered when he and his men discover the massacre of a detachment of Praetorian Guards and the man they were protecting—a member of the Roman Senate and an ally of the emperor Tiberius himself. Plunged straight into a deadly web of murder and intrigue, Valens soon realizes far more is at stake than just his own life and honor.
Valens must find those truly responsible. If he fails, he will be forced to destroy the nearest village in savage reprisal. But time is running out fast and there are many—including some under his own command—who are sure the Roman peace can only be maintained by terror and the use of overwhelming force. To save innocent lives, he must first pierce the veil of secrecy surrounding the senator’s strange journey through one of the empire’s most dreary backwaters. What was Decimus Junius Silanus seeking? And why was he killed?
I usually like his-fic books set in ancient Rome (or anywhere ancient to be honest) and it doesn’t bother me at all when the author chooses the first century A.D. so the beginning of our era or the reign of Tiberius as the background. Not this time, though. While Larkin’s research and knowledge of the time period (Roman Empire around 20-30 AD) is evident it can hardly be called thorough. Well, there is nothing worse than partial knowledge.
The main lead, Lucius, didn’t sound to me like a Roman officer and an eques (the member of the lower of two aristocratic classes of ancient Rome, ranking below the patricians) for most of the time. Heck, when I come to think about it he didn’t even sound like a soldier. He pitied peasant Jews and slaves who were worked to death in his father’s mines. Excuse me? Who are you writing about – an ancient Roman or a Mahatma Ghandi? Because for any Roman, especially one coming from a family of means, slavery was just a fact of life and peasant barbarians were considered to be lucky if they could profit from the great achievements of their masters – for a price of course. If an obscure village was to be wiped out there was nothing to cry about. After all the Romans wiped out entire empires and generally thought they were perfectly entitled to do so, as long as they profited from the fact.
Apart from that the book is full of figures from the New Testament who are presented with unbelievable twists. I do understand it is fiction and the author has every right to borrow left, right and centre and tweak this and that detail to suit his purposes. However a historical name dropping does not hide the lack of profound and even interesting plot.
When stripped from its somewhat artificial historic background we are left with a dull military mystery which could be easily solved very near the beginning.
A pseudo-his-fic novel with the religious tie-ins which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, especially if you like history.