Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Gods and Legions

I like historical novels that develop the individual characters rather than focus on just a series of events. I am presently close to finishing “Gods and Legions” by Michael Curtis Ford and appreciated his very personal portrayal of the Roman Emperor Julian. I do wish his narrative character, Caesarius, a Christian physician and longtime friend of Julian, had been more understanding of the followers of the ancient religions rather than behave as the typically intolerant believer of the period but I guess that personification was more historically accurate.

I felt much more sympathy for the local priest of 5th century Noviodonum, depicted in John Gorman’s “The King of the Romans”, who compassionately helped the aged local priestess remember the steps of her rituals when her mind would wander.

Overall, however, I have found this to be an excellent novel and would agree wholeheartedly with reviewer Paolo Villasenor, who writes: "...the second novel by Michael Curtis Ford, has an uncanny ability to draw in modern readers with its vivid imagery, fascinating characters, and well written dialogue that would appeal to even those who lack any prior background to the era. Although the story of Emperor Julian is well chronicled in history, it is not necessarily well known. The tale of the unlikely heir, banished to await his execution, and rising unexpectedly to the throne would be fascinating enough. Yet the story that Ford tells progresses towards even more surprising and compelling twists beyond the ascension of the young Emperor. Ford exhibits a fantastic ability to paint a picture of ancient warfare, and adeptly contrasts different armies' strategies, techniques, and dispositions, creating a graphic description of ancient times. Just as easily, Ford shifts gears to provide wonderful dialogue between the protagonists, influenced by classical authors and philosophers. The complex character that is Julian will confuse and dumbfound readers as his bizarre behavior leads to his demise. What motivates his actions? That is left for the reader to interpret. Although it would be easy to summarize the plot, the true art is found in Ford's writing. Overall, Ford's second book is a must read for those who enjoy a well-told story lush with action, imagery, and intellect. One need not be a classical scholar to enjoy this fine tale."

Ford himself attributes his realistic depictions of ancient warfare to two books by Victor Davis Hanson, The Soul of Battle & Carnage and Culture. Hanson is Professor of Classics and Coordinator of the Classical Studies Program at Fresno State.

Ford is working on his third book entitled The Last King of Greece. "It takes us back to the 1st century B.C. & recounts the life of Mithridates, again a man little known in our times, but who was a brilliant barbarian king & general whom Rome considered its most fearsome enemy ever -- even greater than Hannibal, " says Ford.

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