Endeavour recently ran an online History Festival on twitter, with some great Q&A’s and giveaways. Whilst it had some of my favourite authors of Seventeenth Century HF, like Mike Arnold and Katherine Clements, there were also some new authors and books that I discovered.
One of these was Brian Kitchen’s Divided Empire - set in the failing years of the Roman Empire. The twiglight of the empire is rarely done, and this is probably the best novel on the period that I have read. It's a time of change in the Empire, conflict between Christian and pagan, and the threat of renewed civil war. A society in the early stage of collapse before the cataclysm of the Fifth Century. The historical background is spot on - and I was completely immersed in the adventure from the off.
It is the very real work the author has done in the research that shines out the most, not overbearingly, but you are constantly treated to pastiches of late roman life, brothels, factories, temples, travel. It’s a wonderful snapshot of the period.
That is not to denigrate from the plot which opens with Flavius Vitulasius and companion Siward off to Brittania on a mission to stop it descending into anarchy. En route they find a carriage being attacked, beat off the attackers, saving a mysterious woman - Corellia - who then disappears in the night. All is not as it seems. There were elements of The Three Musketeers as Flavius and Siward pick up Lucius Aurelius - a Christian - and travel into Brittania in search of a document that could destroy the Empire.
I was sort of expecting a late Roman Scarrow - which is no problem at all, I love Macro and Cato - but this isn’t really a battles and military detail kind of thing; there is some but that is not the focus. It is much more a great detective/spy novel set perfectly in the period. There is a great interaction between our three protagonists as they pick their way through the plot, and humour, and some parallels with our society today, perhaps.
I devoured this really quickly, and at the end I was looking forward to more. I know there is a follow up coming hopefully this year and, knowing the history, I’m looking forward to seeing how our heros cope!