Friday, June 20, 2003

The Twelfth Vulture of Romulus: The Last Generation of Ancient Rome

Most historical fiction novels treat fairly recent subject matter, typically events of the last 400 years or so. Yet a few books dig deeper into the past, with an interesting story and a well-researched background of ancient times. Boris Raymond’s new book, The Twelfth Vulture of Romulus: Attila and the Fall of Rome, is one such case: a detailed story that looks at the waning years of the Roman Empire.
Beginning in 458 AD, The Twelfth Vulture of Romulus traces events of this last generation, until the fall of Rome in 476 AD. These years also span the career of the ever-ambitious Orestes, from his early service to Attila the Hun, years as head of the Roman army, to his final grab for the Purple when his young son became the last Roman Emperor. Along the way, we meet many other characters, both historical and fictional, in an epic story with three main sections.

The book’s title at first seems obscure and uninteresting, and the length (almost 600 pages) intimidating. Yet the book is written in normal size print, with an easy-to-read narrative style. As for the title, the author explains that it comes from an ancient prophecy of Rome’s founder, Romulus, who saw 12 vultures: a dream understood to mean that Rome would last for 12 centuries.

The book’s many characters and geographical references appear overwhelming. Here again, though, the author provides many aides (at the back of the book). Often I found myself turning to the detailed list of characters, which tells a little about each character, including his or her’s date of birth (and death, if within the timeframe of the story), age in 458 AD, and whether historical character or not. Many of the characters are in fact from the pages of history: more well-known ones such as Attila the Hun, and other rulers and Popes of the time, but also the story’s main and minor characters: Orestes, his brother Paulus and adopted brother Odovacar; Cassiodorus, Romulus; Orestes’ wife Barbaria; even the priest Gelasius and desert monk Severinus (with a fictional pre-Christian identity of Antonous), and Biglias. Fictional characters include Alexia, a worldly woman who trades slaves for the "entertainment" industry, and at various times is lover to Orestes and Carlus (another fictional character).

Other story aides include a list of geographical places (where one can learn that Itallia is modern-day Italy, Gallia is France, and Mediolanum was an early name for Milan). Another appendix shows an overall map of the Roman Empire.

Against this rich backdrop comes an intriguing story about government corruption and power-plays; rampant immorality in a society increasingly reliant on, and vulnerable to, the Barbarians within and without; and increasing conflict between the Roman Catholic Church, already firmly established, and secular rulers. This is Rome in its decadence, and many characters are not the most morally upright. Yet the author presents the story in good taste (as are all the books I review here), sparing the reader the lurid details that too many books unfortunately include nowadays. Through Severinus, immoral characters are even confronted, albeit briefly, with their wickedness.

From beginning to end, The Twelfth Vulture of Romulus highlights the struggles faced by so many different groups living in this last generation of Rome: the changes they desire, and how they go about achieving those desires. We see in particular the various groups’ quests for power: Orestes’ ever-growing ambition; the Phoenix Group’s quest to restore Rome to its former glory; and the Catholic Church’s increasing dominance. Offset against this are a few individuals (Severinus and Barbaria, for example) who look to the power of God instead. The Twelfth Vulture of Romulus is an interesting, well-researched and informative historical novel about this time period, so distant and yet an important transition to the Western world we know today.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Island of Refuge (by Abby Parks): Gripping from Beginning to End

Reviewed by Rita Gerlach
As a child, Tara Madison is given her own island on Tampa Bay. Over the years, her island serves as her refuge. It becomes a place of escape. The tirades of her abusive father are too difficult to bear, and the sorrow of watching her invalid mother waste away leave Tara feeling hopeless and alone.

One night when Tara is a young woman, she rows out to her island in hopes of finding solitude. Instead she finds something she never imagined. It is the eve of World War II, and it has come to invade her private world.

That night, Tara’s world changes forever when she discovers an escaped convict hiding in her island hut. Instead of reporting Tommy to the authorities, Tara insists on helping him prove his innocence.

Island of Refuge reminds me of those 1940's Hemmingway novels made into movies such as Key Largo and To Have and Have Not that, to this day, glue you to your seat. Island of Refuge is a tightly woven suspense mystery. It keeps you questioning with every turn of the page. You suspect that the book is about uncovering Tommy's innocence, but it is much more than that. Tara discovers the Truth that sets her free, and that God will always help those in need of finding it.

I enjoyed this novel very much and highly recommend it. It is a five star piece of literature.

Ms. Parks’ book, Island of Refuge, is published by Publish America. (ISBN: 1-59129-123-2)


Reviewer's bio: Rita Gerlach is the author The Rebel's Pledge, a romantic historical novel of Colonial times that has been rated at five stars. She writes with an inspirational mindset. She has written several articles for The Christian Communicator Magazine, and is preparing to publish a historical series set prior to the American Revolution. These two new novels are entitled Thorns In Eden and The Everlasting Mountains.

Look for them soon!

Sunday, June 1, 2003

The Lion’s Apprentice: More Adventures of the Young George Washington

The Lion’s Apprentice, the third book in Richard Patton’s "Neophyte Warrior" series, continues the story told in the previous two books—His Majesty’s Envoy and The Reluctant Commander. This third installment picks up the story after Washington’s debacle at Great Meadows, and covers the next year – from the fall of 1754 to the summer of 1755. We now meet General Braddock, brought in by the British to subdue the French and reclaim the western fort. Braddock then brings Washington onto his staff, as an adviser, one who knows the territory and its problems. Washington sees a great opportunity here, as an apprentice, a way to advance his military career.

Much of this book contrasts the military styles of the two cultures: the more refined (and somewhat arrogant) British, versus the rustic, rural Americans. The clashing military styles, well-known to Americans familiar with our country’s history, are discussed at length, along with the many details often brushed-over. Braddock’s main problem is deja-vu for Washington: the lack of supplies, and inadequate roads through the back country.

The minor fictional characters are back, in brief parts of the story as before. Shawnee Indian Old Smoke is the strongest and most visible of these. The Pariah West/Stump Neck story seems rather tiresome by now; indeed the character himself admits his own boredom and lack of direction. Fortunately, his presence in The Lion’s Apprentice is quite negligible, and most of the book focuses on the more interesting story of General Braddock, Washington and their associates.

As the third part in a longer series detailing George Washington’s career with the French and Indian war, The Lion’s Apprentice is understood as an installment, not a novel on its own with a clear beginning and ending. The author includes a synopsis of events prior to this part, but readers would do best to read the books in sequence. This third part of "Neophyte Warrior" is a good, interesting and educational read through this period in America’s history.