Thomas Harlan's impressive first novel, The Shadow of Ararat
, delivers big-screen entertainment. It's an alternate history with babes, battles, and believable magic theory and technology, not to mention political intrigue and major spectacle. Think Spartacus
by way of Frankenstein
The Roman Empire has reached our 7th century without falling or becoming Christian. Galen Atreus, Emperor of the West, and Heraclius, Emperor of the East, join forces to overthrow Chroseos II, Emperor of Persia. The book follows four major characters. Dwyrin MacDonald, a young Irishman learning sorcery, is prematurely initiated and sent to fight with the Roman army, though he can barely control his gift for calling fire. The Roman Thyatis Julia Clodia, a covert warfare specialist, leads her unit behind enemy lines. Ahmet, an Egyptian priest/sorcerer at Dwyrin's school, sets out to rescue Dwyrin but meets Mohammed (yes, that Mohammed). They join Roman allies Nabatea and Palmyra, desert cities facing superior Persian forces without Roman aid. Finally, Maxian Atreus, Galen's youngest brother, a healer-magician, discovers a "curse" protecting the State from inimical magic but also preventing nonmagical progress. He sets out to lift it at any cost, resurrecting canny Julius Caesar and searching for Alexander the Great--an even greater source of magical power.
Harlan's ability to evoke cinematic images makes scenes come alive. There's plenty of action and an ending that both satisfies and promises lots more to follow. --Nona Vero
From Publishers Weekly
In his ambitious first novel, Harlan combines fantasy and alternate history to create a rich depiction of an ancient empire. Set in what would be our A.D. 600, the narrative depicts a Roman empire that is still standing, thanks to the prowess of its military legions and of its thaumaturges. The book's many subplots stir into action when the empire's Western emperor joins his Eastern counterpart in a war against Persia. Characters include stock villains and unrelievedly heroic heroes, such as the Roman Prince Maxian, who is both a fighter and physician. Fortunately, most of the other major characters are more rounded; they include a female assassin whose cunning patron sends her into the royal army, an emperor who returns from the dead, a young Hibernian thaumaturge who is prematurely thrust into battle, a Hermetic priest who mentors his inexperienced pupil in the art of magic and a powerful sorcerer who turns against his country. Harlan incorporates allusions to real historyAfor example, references to a religious group crucified for not worshipping Roman godsAwhile twisting history's consequences in other arenas, such as in his descriptions of the effects of lead in Roman drinking water. Even if the novel often lacks the lush detail of similar fantasy and historicals, it adequately evokes the period's landscape, everyday manners, eating and housing. This book marks the start of a planned Oath of Empire series, and most readers of this volume will look forward to the second. (July)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.