‘A page turner from beginning to end … A damn fine read’ Ben Kane.
Four Emperors. Two Friends. One Destiny.
As twilight descends on the 3rd century AD, the Roman Empire is but a shadow of its former self. Decades of usurping emperors, splinter kingdoms and savage wars have left the people beleaguered, the armies weary and the future uncertain. And into this chaos Emperor Diocletian steps, reforming the succession to allow for not one emperor to rule the world, but four.
Meanwhile, two boys share a chance meeting in the great city of Treverorum as Diocletian’s dream is announced to the imperial court. Throughout the years that follow, they share heartbreak and glory as that dream sours and the empire endures an era of tyranny and dread. Their lives are inextricably linked, their destinies ever-converging as they rise through Rome’s savage stations, to the zenith of empire. For Constantine and Maxentius, the purple robes beckon…
Thank you to Aries Fiction (An Imprint of Head of Zeus Books) and Jade Gwilliam for allowing me to participate on this blog tour 🙂
Let it be known, the Roman Empire at the dawn of Maxentius and Constantine:
The book does not deal with this yet, in much detail. It will sooner or later begin to show you the result of this system that Diocletian devised to prevent civil war from occuring in the Roman Empire. The story of Rome’s downfall began with Diocletian himself in my opinion. That’s is my opinion. But the real story began with Constantine and Maxentius. Two lads, that one day will begin to determine the fate of Rome’s destiny to its very ends. This is by far, the most tragic story I have ever encountered. In a world without gold and the ruthless need for power, Constantine and Maxentius may have been the very best of friends. For those of you that should know, I feel Constantine doesn’t get that much attention as these names will: Nero, Trajan, Hadrian. The most famous Emperors of Rome, including Marcus Aurelius and Commodus.
Constantine was the man that changed Europe’s destiny forever. He’s the man that converted the Roman Empire to Christianity that would set the foundations for European history as we know today. Of course, this novel follows the events of how that came to be. And in a sense, you sense that this world is Rome collapsing. The events that Constantine and Maxentius find themselves can be roughly summarised to this: It is the crisis of the Third Century. Rome’s borders have begun to become attacked, left unprotected due to in-numerous civil wars. The man that was capable of achieving this Olympian task was Emperor Aurelian, who single-handily defeated the Empire’s enemies, conquered the Queen of Palmyra’s lands, and began a process that would have secured the Empire’s borders, had he not been assassinated. He was one of the last Romans in my opinion. With Aurelian gone, there was another series of successive Emperors, the Praetorian Guards swapping one Emperor for the other. That’s as far as I can recall my Roman Knowledge.
Fast forward to Diocletian, this man decides to split the Empire into four parts. In case he forgets his history, back in the good old days of the Roman Republic, the Triumivate between Mark Antony, Julius Ceasar, and Lepidus led to the Roman Civil War which was affecting the Republic in many ways that it could handle. The same process was going to happen here when Diocletian ‘tetrarchic’ system collapsed like a house of cards. In essence, the fathers of Mextentius and Constantine were ruthless bastards. Not to mention the most horrible figure in this system, Galerius. A tooth-spitting stinking man with no sense of morale or honor. Diocletian’s last grand persecution of the Christians is shown and it is a reminder of the days of Nero. It’s shown in brutal, graphic detail. But I’d also have like to see how the Christians during this time, persecuted Roman Temples, heck even denounce the religion of Rome as false. Bear in mind we may begin to see this in the later books of this series.
This is a world where you feel sadness for the fact that old Rome is dying. A new power is rising in the East which will later become the Byzantine Empire. The Persians have not forgotten their old rival and are consistently trying to destroy’s Rome grip on the East. You will see Constantine battling the Persians, which foreshadows the conflict that when the Eastern Roman Empire is formed, they will have immense battles with the Sassanids as they become to be known by the Romans.
You will get this fact by observing that Christianity is becoming more popular. And the Roman Pagan Emperors dislike the fact that they refuse to bow to them. It is Maxentius however, that proves to be a tolerant Emperor, a man that truly cares for the people and that he would bring back the old glorious days of Rome. Bear in mind also, that by the time of Diocletian, the city of Rome was losing its grandeur, it was falling into deep poverty, temples and buildings ransacked, crime rife. The Praetorian Guard were the least trusted out of all, and Rome’s religious grasp was buckling under the new Christian religion which may very well have been spreading like wildfire as a result of the people losing confidence in their Emperors, and matters did not help when the Praetorian Guard were swapping Emperor from Emperor.
Rome was also the cesspit of numerous murders, failed assassination plots, and perhaps from a Christian’s point of view, a city of sin drenched in blood. But when you compare it from a pagan’s point of view, it is the Christians that sought to seek power and take important positions. There is a lot of juxtaposing here between the religious conflict that will become central to the core of this book. Had Maxentius won against Constantine, there would have been no stop to the rise of Christianity. However, we would have seen a co-existence between Christianity and Roman Paganism which would have been true and alive today.
I’ve gone on a lot about the historical detail, but I feel it’s important to know this as the politics of the Third Century are an ever-mangling, ever confusing vertigo of madness and chaos. I do not like the Third Century either as it resembles the downfall of Rome and what happens to the Empire when men of ambition grab it. In this essence, the writing of this book is superb. The research is clear, excellent, and immersive. The world-building is beautifully crafted to make me feel that Christianity will replace this new world. Constantine is a great character including Maxentius. I didn’t like Maxentius’s wife at all.
You will soon know why. SJA Turney and Gordon Doherty wrote this book like two writers that have entered their prime and all their experience boils down to a book that is superbly written. You’ll feel loss, love, and tragedy. And a knowing doom that you as the reader, will know what’s going to happen. I love books that can evoke much passion like this, and I barely know anything about Roman history! They also make it clear that much of what you read is from a Christian point of view. And that makes sense because when we look at Carthage, we know nothing about its history, its perspective, its religion. And why is that? The Romans burnt the city of Carthage to the ground and subjected it to the fate of Troy. In the same way, the Christians burnt down temples, ransacked religious places of the Romans and Greeks. History is a funny irony is it not? We don’t get to see things from a pagan perspective, as the authors will point out. But imagine if we could. It would certainly add some balance.
Also, you will know the Oracle of Pythia. Emperors and Kings, Republics have all relied on this mythical oracle. During the Diocletian persecution of the Christians, the Pythia was attacked by the Christians. The statements that she said however do make a lot of sense, the final one was: All is ended. Within that year, the Western Roman Empire fell. Theodosius I died in 5 years, and Alaric and the Visigoths sacked Rome. Ironic isn’t it?
It’s a fantastic debut, a fantastic triumph of Rome’s majestic scale, and a representation of the eventual downfall of one of history’s most triumphal empires to date.
Preorder the sequel now for £3.99/$7.69 on Amazon Kindle. The link is somewhat not working, but if you search on Amazon you will find it 🙂
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