- File Size: 684 KB
- Print Length: 240 pages
- Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
- Publisher: Quinn Publications; 1 edition (March 28, 2014)
- Publication Date: March 28, 2014
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00JCAGVNE
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #266,732 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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The Rise of Zenobia (Overlord Book 1) Kindle Edition
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Top customer reviews
Every character came alive on the page for me - from Zabdas, who tells us the history of Zenobia through conversations with his granddaughter, Samira, through to the numerous Roman rulers and Palmyrian Kings, to my favourite minor character, Bamdad. I thought the language and dialogue, what could have been a tricky obstacle, were both expertly handled.
If you're a fan of historical fiction and like Douglas Jackson, Bernard Cornwell, Simon Scarrow - then you will adore this novel. The Rise of Zenobia is the first in the series and I can't wait to read more from this talented author.
As mentioned by others, the story is Zenobia’s rise and of the rise of her husband the warlord and self-styled “King” Odenathus is the subject of this first volume. The story is (rather well) told by Zabdas when in AD 290, a historical character who became one of Palmyra’s and Zenobia’s main generals, alongside Zabbai. The jumps between the (glorious) past and the (much less glorious) present when one prosperous Palmyra is just a shadow of its past splendour, and when Zabdas seems to be fighting an endless but losing war against the Tanukhs and their King Jadhima, are also well done and told.
In this volume at least, JD Smith has managed to insert bits and pieces of fiction which are mostly plausible within what little is known of the historical characters. The Tanukhs were an Arab nomad tribe which threatened Palmyra’s trade and caravans. Their leader Jadhima was a historical character even if his demise as told in the book is pure fiction: essentially we do not know what happened to him, although a violent death is, of course, quite likely. The Tanukh would later on become the Lakhmids and the allies of the Sassanid King of Kings.
With regards to Zabdas, his years as a slave are also fiction, and we simply do not know what happened to him (or to most of Zenobia’s close entourage, ministers and generals) after her rebellion against Rome failed. That he survived and became a warlord/raider as the author seems to have made him into is again quite possible but it is not corroborated by any of the (very) patchy sources.
Then you have the main character of Zenobia. Here again, the author has mixed up elements drawn from the sources with her own take and portrait of the young lady. The bits about Zenobia making herself popular with the troops and her officers, including drinking with them are mentioned in the sources. Odenathus, who became her husband, was the strongman and military commander of Palmyra. He was and would indeed remain up to his death a loyal servant/ally of Rome and its Emperors. He was at one point granted extraordinary powers by them in the East, acted on their behalf and never seems to have even tried to break away and take advantages of their difficulties.
Whether his wife Zenobia (and her own father, another strategos and strongman of the city) were the representatives of another faction and clan and were some kind of Palmyran “patriots” seeking to break-away from Rome right from the beginning and make their city-state independent is pure fiction. It is not borne out by the sources. It is even somewhat unlikely, but it does make for a good story and gives Zenobia a somewhat “romantic” aura.
Palmyra was part of the Roman Empire. Its prosperity depended on it and it was essentially a “go-between” and a major stopping point on the route bringing spices and silk from India up the Persian Gulf and the Euphrates where, at some point, the goods were then transported in caravans across the desert to Palmyra and then to Emese before reaching Antioch and the Mediterranean coast. The point here is that Palmyra clearly needed Rome’s protection and the Roman Empire was the market for the goods that its merchants brought to it.
Essentially, Palmyra prospered as long as Rome and Persia were at peace and as long as the former helped Palmyra secure access to the Euphrates. In seems, in particular, that up to AD 256 and the fall of Dura Europos to the Sassanid “invaders” (the city had belonged to the Parthians until some ninety years before when it was conquered by Rome), the city was garrisoned in part by Palmyrene archers but also by an auxiliary unit and by a legionary detachment (of several cohorts). Whether, and to what extent, the city and others on the Euphrates were part of Palmyra’s territory, whether the desert city-state and her mounted warriors shared in its defence or whether they had overall responsibility for defending a section of the Euphrates frontier, as the book seems to imply, is essentially unknown.
What is certain, however, is that Palmyra had its own military forces derived from its caravan guards and that these were perfectly suited for desert warfare and therefore very useful for the Roman Army to the extent that it raised at least one auxiliary cohort from Palmyra which was stationed at Dura. Palmyra was also responsible for defending its desert frontier against Arab raids and this is also shown rather well in the book.
Another well-made point is the growing military pressure building up on Palmyra and on the Roman Empire’s eastern frontier in general from the 230s onwards under the double effect of the more aggressive Sassanid monarchs and their Arab auxiliaries/allies.
All in all, the author has done a rather good job both in the story telling and in weaving bits and pieces of fiction within and between the few “known” elements – that is the elements mentioned in one or the other written sources or those that are derived from archaeology, with Palmyra and Dura being two of the best-excavated sites in all of the Middle East (even if, unfortunately, neither site can currently be visited anymore).
There are nevertheless a few instances where I found that the author’s “creativity” got a bit out of control. The “worst case” was that of the entirely fictional embassy to Rome conducted by Zenobia, something that was highly unlikely in itself, if only because Palmyra was a city of the Empire that had the status of a colony, as opposed to a semi-independent client-kingdom. In addition, the Palmyrans in general and Odenathus in particular would have been somewhat unlikely to send an embassy headed by a woman and coming from the East to Rome whereas negative (and quite misogynous) perceptions about Cleopatra, the “evil” Queen coming from the “corrupting” East “par excellence”. That she would manage to impress and sway one of the emperors (Gallienus, who, for once, is not depicted in a negative way) who would in turn convince his co-emperor and father Valerian to being reinforcements to the East in the way depicted in the book is perhaps even less plausible.
Despite this, and perhaps one or two other implausible elements, I nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed reading this rather exciting book. Four stars. For those wanting to read a (historical) biography of Zenobia, there are several available. I can recommend Patricia Southern’s “Empress Zenobia: Palmyra’s Rebel Queen”. For those interested in the background and the historical context on Rome’s Eastern frontier at the time, there are also an increasing number of books available. I can recommend the following "Between Rome and Persia: The Middle Euphrates, Mesopotamia and Palmyra Under Roman Control" by Peter Edwell, which provides a useful introduction, although the book only covers events up to theend of the 250s. A third useful, but older, reference is “Palmyra and its Empire: Zenobia’s Revolt against Rome” by Richard Stoneman, although it is more useful and interesting on Palmyra itself than it is on Zenobia’s Revolt per se.
The story moves back and forth in time with a nice flow. I enjoyed how rich the story is with details of a time and era long forgotten.
I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or someone just looking to learn (quite a bit) about 3rd century Syria.
I'm very happy the story continues with the next installment coming out this year!