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Jack Whyte

Skystone, The
Forge, 1996


Setting: Roman Britain (with small part in Africa), mainly in Colchester (Camulodunum) & near Bath (Aquae Sulis). Written as a retrospective from 410 AD as first person memoir of Gaius Publius Varrus (fictional character), covering period 365-390 AD. Varrus, a former primuspilus under Gaius Britannicus, a wealthy patrician who had been his general & later went on to the pro consulship of Numidia before retiring to the Colony near Bath which he established of like-minded individuals he recruited against the anticipated (by him at least) fall of the Roman empire & the consequent abandonment by Rome of Britain. Britannicus hates the degeneracy he sees in the Empire now, especially as embodied in the Senecas, the arch enemies of his family. Varrus, having been invalided out of the legions, returned to his late grandfather’s forge in Colchester, where he reopens the business & supplies arms to the local garrison, commanded by Antonius Lepus Cicero, another good old Roman, and makes silver crosses for Bishop Alaric. Forced to flee Colchester after a run-in he & his best friend (& former army buddy) Plautus, currently primuspilus for Cicero, have with the arrogant, rich homosexual bully, Caesarius Claudius Seneca, who continues to nurse a murderous hatred for the man (he does not know Varrus’ name) whom he attacked but was beaten & disfigured by, Varrus goes to the villa Britannicus, where he meets, loves & marries Britannicus’ beautiful and intelligent sister, Luceiia. Varrus has a dagger made by his grandfather from what his grandfather said was a stone that fell from the skies & yielded a metal that was harder & more brilliant than normal iron. Varrus learns of a Celtic legend about the night dragons fell to earth in the Mendip hills near the villa & concludes that these are also skystones. After much work he finds & finally smelts a large one of these, making a Celtic style figurine which he calls "the Lady of the Lake" (since the meteorite came from a lake) and stating, as the book ends, that at some future date (presumably volume 2) he will make from this figurine a single sword (it will become Excalibur & go to his grandson, Arthur). Details regarding the Roman army, political events centered around Theodosius, details of daily life, both Roman & Celtic are woven into a good, fast-paced story, with plenty of action scenes, a couple of steamy erotic scenes, and some more reflective parts regarding the state of the Roman world & especially Britain at this time, showing reasons for Rome’s weakness (overextension & moral/morale failure). At the outer edge for inclusion in the grouping, it still reflects enough Roman material to provide useful reading for a class studying the later part of the Roman empire. Certainly readable by bright highschoolers but clearly intended for an adult audience, the book might cause some problem for high school use because of the 2 scenes with Phoebe (esp.) & Luceiia, though these are not long episodes & they are well integrated into the needs of the story. -Fred Mench

- Fred Mench , 12/19/2005

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