Friday, September 30, 2005

Fire and Bronze : A Novel of Carthage Books: "Her name was Elisha, and she was born eight centuries before the time of Christ. Fire and Bronze is her story, full of passion, intrigue and adventure, brought to vivid life by a new star of historical fiction: Robert Raymond. He tells the dramatic story of Elisha's failed coup against her brother, the king of Tyre, and her escape to Cyprus with her supporters and a good portion of the royal treasury. From there she launches her greatest and bloodiest endeavor: the foundation of the 'Queen of Citites' which changes the course of civilization and establishes Elisha as one of the dominant forces on the continent."

Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow Books: "This hefty historical fantasy opens a trilogy dealing with the Trojan War but without the usual number of variations on the theme readers have come to expect from prolific and popular fantasist Gemmell. The title character is Aeneas, not outwardly the Trojan hero, however, but a Trojan ally using the name Helikaon. He and the Greek Odysseus are on terms of mutual respect, and he is also in love with Andromache, the betrothed of Hector, Troy's greatest warrior. When relations between Troy and Mycenae start deteriorating dramatically, Helikaon/Aeneas is in several kinds of dilemma. We soon learn that Gemmell's isn't the Homeric scenario of the Iliad, however, because this book's Hector doesn't survive the battles of this preliminary book, and those occur before Agamemnon sets sail for Troy. Gemmell is a master of fast pacing and original, not to say offbeat, takes on legendary and mythical characters. The alternate Iliad he launches here does honor to his reputation and promises to lift it higher while adding notably to readers' pleasure. - Roland Green, Booklist"

The Enemies of Jupiter

By Caroline Lawrence

"The fever that started in Ostia is sweeping through Rome, and Jonathan, Flavia, Nubia, and Lupus are called by the Emperor to investigate. The friends' investigations take them from the Imperial Palace to Tiber Island, but Jonathan is distracted by a secret mission of his own. Suddenly, he finds that everything is terrifyingly out of control. This is the seventh volume in the popular series of mysteries set in ancient Rome, which have been widely praised for their fast-paced plots, well-drawn characters, and authentic Roman setting."

Thursday, September 01, 2005

THE NIGHT ATTILA DIED: by Michael A. Babcock Ph.D.

Review by Thomas R. Martin

This is a unique book. Michael Babcock has written what amounts to a minutely detailed crime scene investigation of the mysterious death of Attila the Hun, using the arcane scholarly discipline of philology as his investigative tool kit to create a vivid dramatization of the circumstances of Attila?s bloody demise.

Philology, as Babcock says, has been called ?the art of reading slowly,? which means analyzing the language of texts with the most thorough rigor imaginable. Usually philology appears in books aimed only at specialists, but Babcock has created a tour de force, presenting philological research in a colloquial style that makes his conclusions easy to read. Moreover, he enlivens his detective story with light-hearted stories of his training in graduate school and his encounters with famously curmudgeonly scholarly giants in the field.

Who killed Attila?

Babcock applies his philological detecting to the ancient texts describing the death of Attila, who had led his army deep into the territory of the western Roman empire. The accepted story is that Attila drank so much wine at the banquet for his marriage to a young bride that he died in his sleep on his wedding night from a massive cerebral hemorrhage that sent blood pouring out of his face. Babcock presents his deductions for a different judgment chapter by chapter, as if exhibits in a court case. He argues Attila was murdered, citing suspicious circumstances such as Attila?s reputation for self-disciplined drinking in public and the bride never calling for help throughout the whole night.

Babcock puts most weight, however, on his extremely close analysis of the main ancient sources, Jordanes and Priscus. He concludes that Attila was poisoned on the orders of Marcian, the eastern Roman emperor, who covered up the murder. Marcian?s motives were political?to save the eastern Roman Empire from attacks by the Huns?and theological?to show that God protected the Empire and punished transgressors like Attila.

A persuasive argument

Relentless in his examination of the evidence and imaginative in his reconstruction of events, Babcock presents a powerful case. If I were his opponent in court, I would focus on one major objection to his reconstruction of the alleged crime: why would Marcian want to hide his part in the assassination if he had successfully engineered a plot to protect his empire from the most feared conqueror of the age? Why wouldn?t he have boasted about this success? Babcock?s answer is that, if Marcian had claimed the credit for Attila?s death, he would have undermined the claim that God had punished Attila. But, I would reply, it would have been completely in keeping with the political and theological principles of the time for the emperor to proclaim his role as God?s agent in inflicting a righteous death on the blood enemy of the Christian kingdom of Rome.

Readers will have a fine time deciding if Babcock has won his case, which also includes fascinating background information of all sorts about the leading personalities of this exciting period in Roman imperial history. Philology has never been more intriguing as a tool for crime detection.