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John Stewart

Centurion, The
Allison & Busby


This novel, written in a conventional, even old-fashioned, style is an ambitious attempt both to portray the Roman mind and the complexity of nationalities in the distant past. The style varies; too much sentimental value is accorded Roman aristocracy and feminine beauty. However, the canvas is fairly broad and action, treachery and mystery are diligently woven and interwoven throughout. The author is at his best in his descriptive passages. The novel is set in the later part of the reign of Tiberius. The Emperor despatches a young legate, the Tribune Lucius Gracchus Valerius, to Syria where unrest extends even to Galilee and Nazareth. The widely stretched Roman army is thin in the east and Sejanus, so long Tiberius's favorite, is no longer to be trusted. Valerius is accompanied by his sister Drusilla. She is attracted to a Centurion, Marcus Tullus, who in turn is powerfully attracted to her, although conscious of his lowly origins. Tullus gives strong support to the excellently drawn character of Valerius. Recognisable historical figures appear, but most are fictional, including Valerius and the lovely Cornelia, a slave who from childhood had been treated as a member of the family. John Stewart appears to know his period, even if Romans were not, surely, so gentle and tolerant in their domestic lives. Their love of brutality 'for fun' rather contradicts this. Herod and Pontius Pilate are here. The trial and crucifixion of 'the Nazarene' form an important part of the middle of the book and this section is treated with admirable discretion. - Kay Sylvester From The Historical Novel Review (August 1998), published by the Historical Novel Society.

- Kay Sylvester, 12/19/2005

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