This is a deeply strange book. It is set in an alternate future in which the Roman Empire still exists, and has evolved into a starfaring civilization. There is also a strong mystical element involving something called the Godstream, which is evidently some powerful, magical energy which grants great power.
And of course, as in the original Roman Empire, there are political machinations aplenty as various noblemen and women scheme for power. There are betrayals heaped upon betrayals, and ever-shifting alliances.
The first half of the book I admit was pretty dense, with lots of world-building I found hard to understand. It may just be my own literal mindedness; but I initially struggled to form a clear picture of what was happening. I did get strong Dune vibes, though, which is on balance a good thing. (Maybe with the exception of imitating Frank Herbert’s technique of frequent italicized thoughts to deliver exposition. But hey, if it worked for Herbert, it can’t be all bad.)
The second half of the book turned into more of a classic adventure type story. If not for the occasional references to philosophy and mysticism, I practically would have thought I was reading a Henry Vogel novel. There is a brave hero fleeing from two competing groups of villains, a beautiful slave woman he rescues in the process, and a wild battle in a gladiatorial arena.
This gladiator scene was the highlight of the book for me. The star is the gladiator Deimos. It’s the only chapter he’s in out of the entire book, but he has a complete story arc in that one chapter.
After that, there’s more mysticism, although it seems less esoteric this time, and more intrigue, back-stabbing, and a final battle. The ending feels satisfying, even though there were still some things I didn’t fully grok.
What to make of this book? Well, at times it was heavy-going. Partly, that’s because of all the Latin terms the author uses to create the setting. I liked this, but at the same time, it made it hard to keep track of who was who. Those more familiar with Roman naming customs may not find this to be a problem.
Then there’s also the mysticism element. I think the author was trying to make a point about philosophy, or maybe even about the nature of divinity, but I admit I couldn’t tell what it was. Again, that might be indicative of my own lack of understanding rather than a problem with the book.
Overall, I found it a tough but ultimately rewarding read. If you like deep sci-fi, with some adventure elements thrown in, I think you’ll enjoy it.
[Audio version of this post available below.]
I like the idea this book has taken the theme of a surviving Roman Empire into the future one step further by adding a strong mystical element.
World building is always a challenge (or pain) for a writer. Whether to insert large chunks of explanation and risk breaking up the narrative or throwing the world out there and let the reader ‘run with it’ (or explore like a tourists), or try both….as Hamlet would say ‘ah there’s the rub’.
It’s a similar task when including the mystical element. The writer might have a very clear idea of what they are saying, but whether that philosophy or rationale comes across is where a writer can fall down or stumble a bit, for the reader is not inside of the writer’s head. That said a good narrative can usually make up for that (Eg: Does anyone really understand what Dune’s ‘folding space’ means and how the Navigators accomplish it- maybe that was Herbert’s intention).
All the same, another good review Bethrhold
Thank you! Glad you liked the review. And good point about “folding space.” I certainly never understood it. 🙂
I guess we’d both have to dine on spice melange for a few years to get a handle on it😀
Interesting. I really like the idea of alternate histories, so this does seem to be a cool idea.
I wasn’t a huge fan of “Dune” when I read it, mostly because I couldn’t stand Paul. I’m also just not a fan of Herbert’s style.
I know what you mean. I liked Dune, but Paul was definitely my least-favorite character.
You had me at “Roman Empire”. I’ll definitely consider reading this one.
I’ll be curious to hear what you think of it.