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The Shadow of Ararat: Book One of 'The Oath of Empire' Hardcover – July 9, 1999


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Product Details

  • Series: Oath of Empire (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (July 9, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312865430
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312865436
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,329,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 meets Merlin 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.

More About the Author

Born in Tucson, AZ of scientist parents, have always drawn or told or written stories of adventure. Have had one or two adventures myself, over the years.

Customer Reviews

I did not even know who were the main characters!
Aphrodite Incarnate
I love Fantasy and Historical novels, so I especially love Historical Fantasy.
Jeff
I wasn't glued to the story; several times I laid this book aside.
tertius3

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Taylor on October 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Shadow of Ararat impressed me as a first novel in a genre - alternate history - that is one of my current favorites. It had many of the elements I most like in a work of epic fiction such as:
Disparate plot lines of which most, but NOT all, converge in time and space
Protagonists whose motivations can differ greatly from those individuals driving events and who come across as people, not icons, even when the details of their life story remain sketchy.
A sense of verisimilitude that convinced this reader that the events were taking place in a different place and time, not the world of today with different costumes and names.
There were elements that were not to my taste. The work is wordy in some sections, at times reading like a set description with more detail than is required about the nature of clothing worn or the texture of mud. It paints a very clear picture, but one my mind's eye could have filled in the details of from a more sparse description, and at times I found myself muttering "get on with it" when I wanted to find out where the constantly intriguing plot was going. Some descriptions gave this reader no information that aided understanding of characters or events, but only served only to this reader to establish a point of difference previously established, such as the frequent descriptions of who wore makeup and who did not.
My biggest complaint is one of personal preference only. I wanted much more of the back story of how Mr. Harlan's world diverged from our own. I expect much of this will be found in the later works of the series, but I always want to know more about the point of divergence in an alternate history novel.
All in all I recommend this work to lovers of epic fiction, military fiction, historical fiction, and just plain good yarns.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Lori White on August 31, 1999
Format: Hardcover
as one of Harlan's characters might say, as they seem incapable of realistic speech. Seriously, a good try for a first novel--nothing to be ashamed of--but I hope Mr. Harlan works on his characters and forbears from pushing the plot around just to get from point A to point B in his next book. We have a character introduced in a manner that suggests he's a fairly young boy, no older than 11 or 12, then we suddenly find out in the middle of the book that he's 16. 16, dammit! We have a character wondering time and again why the men under her command accept her as a leader, but golly, they just do. We have a character who gives no hint of his ability to stand up to the major supreme meanie on the block, but he almost does, not once, but twice. His attempts seem to cause more harm than good by the way--and just how does his body end up back within city walls when he falls outside them in single combat, surrounded by the enemy? A few other things that happened off-stage took me quite by surprise. Oh, I also hope he eases up on the fashion show. I was getting to the point where one more description of a plain tunic with stitching at the collar and cuffs would have had me hurling the book across the room. And it's a library book. That wouldn't have been nice.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 29, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I am interested in Rome and Byzantium, which is why I bought this book. I respect this author's technical knowledge, and he excels at description...but about 1/3 of the way through I ran into problems. First of all... my understanding is that 'alternate history" should provide some kind of 'branching point in history" which caused this world to evolve differently from our own. In this case, there was no Christianity and no split between the Eastern and Western Empires. That's 2 branching points already. In addition, the empires seem to have been spared the massive migrations of people which caused the real Rome to be swamped by 'barbarian' invasions. So I guess the Huns, etc. were simply Nice Guys in this book and never bothered Rome?
OK. Moving on to the real problems of this novel: though I tried very hard, I felt no identification with the protagonists. The author does a wonderful job of describing what they wear, what they look like and the landscapes through which they pass. But as for what makes the people tick--nothing. No word of their pasts, their griefs, joys, thoughts, beliefs. Nobody falls in love or even really has sex. One character encounters the Queen of Palmyra; the next time we see them they are apparently lovers, though we never see how they interact and reach this state. To me, that's a fatal error. An author can get away with blah characters in a short novel, but in a book of this length it quickly becomes deadly--especially since I really didn't care that much about the Roman Empire's victory over the Persians. In fact, I found myself rooting for the underdog Persians.
In addition: I quickly lost track of what the characters were doing and why. Scenes seemed to be thrown together at random.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jayson Olson on December 6, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Shadow of Ararat is book 1 (of 4) in what is shaping up to be an epic in today's fantasy/sci-fi genre's.
The author does an extremely fine job of detailing all surroundings, no matter how trivial, so as you can paint the best possible picture in your mind. The varying landscapes of this novel are a joy to read.
The characters, for the most part, are interesting, and you soon take on a few favorites. However, some (not all) are very cliche, the same type you see over and over again in these types of novels. And a few of the names are hard to pronounce (because of thier heritage). Lastly there are soooo many characters to keep track of, it may get confusing at times who is on who's side, and who is related or connected to someone else.
The novel itself is good, but what makes this very interesting is that there are multiple stories going on concurrently, and one overall 'big picture'. I found that the introduction of the book was fun and showed a lot of promise, but soon the story takes on a more lethargic tone, and it seems to take forever. Only until the last 100 pages, where once again the book picks up in action and resolves some plot lines. This is where the book is made, and now I MUST buy the second to see how things pan out.
I personally would have liked to see much more involvement of the Egyptians, both in characters and in landscape. Though this is a book about the Roman Empire, a large portion of the book does not take place anywhere near Rome or Egypt, but Persia.
Overall this 510 page book, probably could have been just as good, or better, by cutting out some non-essential occurences (maybe they were meant to flesh out chracters) and bringing it down to 350-375 pages.
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