Triumph in Dust – Ian Ross

castus-1

Stars: starstarstarstarstar

Triumph in Dust  (pub. Head of Zeus, 1st Dec. 2018) is the concluding episode (unless Ian Ross has some surprises in hand for us!) in an epic “sword and sandals” series.

The aging general, Aurelius Castus, is recalled to duty by an equally aging Emperor Constantine to deal with the re-emergent Persian threat. Setting their ancient enmity aside, Castus agrees and, leaving his wife and daughter in what he thinks is safety, heads off to Nisbis, a Roman trading city in the Syrian desert, to command its defence against Shapur, King of Persia.

Meanwhile, events in the rest of the Empire see his army effectively abandoned, and his loved ones caught up in the political machinations of the Imperial court. Can Castus and his family survive?

The novel is set in a period of tremendous change in the history of the Empire. Ross deftly manages to paint the scene of the emergence of Christianity as the dominant religious force, the drift of power eastwards to Constantinople, and the struggles of Imperial succession, while delivering a story strong both in character and plot.

Castus, at this stage in his career, is an unusual hero for this genre – typical Roman determination and military mindset are at war with his declining health and his realisation that his family loyalties are displacing his Imperial ones. He is a complex character, well-written and sympathetic.

The cast of supporting players are equally well fleshed-out – his wife, Marcellina, his son Sabinus, the conniving merchants of Nisbis, and the God-struck Christian Patriarch, Iacob. My own favourite, however, is the hero’s companion, secretary, and spymaster, the philosophical ex-soldier Diogenes whose quest extends far beyond the limits Castus sets himself.

All in all, an informative and absorbing read – I finished it in two sittings – and a worthy companion to the works of Iggulden, Saylor, and Scarrow.  There’s an endless fascination about the Empire, and Ian Ross has chosen a particularly interesting vein of Roman history to mine.

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