- 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
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- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #421,362 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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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.
This is an exceptionally engaging historical fiction. Zabdas’s story was exciting, full of his own plight (going from slave to warrior), strained family relations, and the politics between Rome and Palmyra. His tale is told in a back and forth manner, his present day where he is a grandfather and a respected, aged warrior, and his past told through a memoir he is writing and his granddaughter is reading. I found it fascinating to see the young, unsure Zabdas versus the confident, aged warrior.
Before reading this book, I knew little of the Palmyrene Empire (I could spell it and I knew Palmyra was Syrian) and even less about Zenobia. I had no problems getting caught up in the story and learning as I went. The reader does not have to be versed in the times or area to follow this tale. It was delightfully educational.
Zabdas’s uncle, Julius is an interesting figure, being polite and gentile but also knowing when to be a bit cutthroat. He also has his fair share of secrets. So does his daughter, Zenobia. She is regal in her bearing, but also strong-willed. Various male leaders have a hard time tossing her out of meetings without looking the fool. She keeps her personal political agenda close to her chest until near the end of the book. Since we don’t get to spend time in her head, we must guess her motives, as Zabdas does.
I enjoyed every minute of this book and had a hard time putting it down, like for a few hours of necessary sleep. I am very much hoping Book 2 comes to audio.
The Narration: Paul Hodgson was the perfect fit for Zabdas. He did a great job switching back and forth from the unsure youthful Zabdas to the seasoned war veteran Zabdas. There are only a handful of female characters in this book, it being of a small cast. Hodgson had a nice female voice, but I found that all the ladies sounded alike. If two were talking together, I had to pay close attention most of the time to follow who was talking. Hodgson had a variety of accents that added to the over all flavor of the book.
As with any new series there is a sense of ‘getting to know’ people and the introduction of people and places that may be in the series for the long haul make a lasting impression. I enjoyed the way that Zabdas recounts the story to his granddaughter, Samira, and with his help, as we flit back and forth in time; we get a sense, not just of time and place, but also of history and strategic planning on a grand scale.
Stories about the Roman Empire can sometimes become a bit too complicated, filled as they are with complex names and long forgotten heroes, and yet I found this to be such an enjoyable read that, for once, I didn’t get bewildered by too much information, and found that the story flowed easily.
So, if like me, you want palatable Roman history, with a story of a brave and beautiful warrior queen, then investing in this series from the beginning will be worth it.