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Boris Raymond

Twelfth Vulture of Romulus, The
KLYO Press, 2003
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Reviews:

Attila is dead by page 134, so the bulk of the novel is not about him, but, like Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, even though the title character is dead early on, his spirit continues to influence the action for the rest of the story. Part I of the novel, Under the Shadow of the Huns, opens in the winter of 448 AD. Part II, Ricimer the Barbarian, runs from 454 to 472 AD, and Part III, The Phoenix Reborn, continues from 472 to 476. This is a very good novel, both as history and as literature. If it has a fault, it is that it covers such a wide canvas, from Gaul and Italy to Constantinople, over an extended stretch of time, when events fall fast and furiously, so that a few of the Roman emperors scarcely walk on stage before being assassinated. Its cast of characters includes not only the generals and politicians, but also their families, assorted slaves and liberti/ae, and the two main agents of the secret service (complete with carrier pigeons) organized by Senator Cassiodorus, plus various church officials, including a few popes. Neither the title nor what I’ve said so far indicates that the novel is really about Orestes, Count, Patrician, last Roman commander-in-chief of the Western empire and father of the last emperor, Romulus (Augustulus). Orestes, like so many of the characters in this novel, is a real historical character, and Raymond seems to work into the story much of what is known about most of the historical characters, while filling out the plot with other fictional characters and events and purported thoughts of the historical characters. However, all of the characters, their actions and goals, seem consistent. A number of them are well-developed, in addtion to the focus character Orestes: Attila, Father Gelasius, Senator Aurelius Cassiodorus, Ricimer, Odovacer, Justa Gratia Honoria Augusta. Readers will learn much about Roman history and politics in the period leading to the fall of the western empire, as seen through the life of a man who was attempting to forestall that collapse by purging the barbarian element from the army and government and restoring the old virtues of Italia. We first meet the 18-year old Orestes as he boldly proposes himself as the replacement for the just-executed secretary of the Hun Attila, and we last meet him as he is trying to hold out against his adopted brother, the German Odovacer. In between these two crucial points, we see him rise in power and influence, partly because Cassiodorus retires and turns over his secret service network to him and partly because he gains the backing of a secret society, the Phoenix Circle, presided over by Honoria, the shrewd sister of the the incompetent emperor, Valentinian III. The aim of this society is to restore Romanness to the government and army. It had been predicted that Rome would fall in the time of the Twelfth Vulture, but the Circle seeks to insure that the empire will rise anew, reborn from its ashes. The other major mover in the circle is the Papal secretary, Gelasius, who cooperates with Orestes as long as it is in the Church’s interest, but when the political aims of Orestes seem to conflict with the expansion of the reach of the Church, then Gelasius winds up plotting against Orestes. The action is fast-moving, the characters interesting, drawn from all walks of life. Sub-plots exist: for example the lives of the sex-slave Alexia who gains her freedom and eventually becomes an Illustra; or Severinus, who starts out as one of her sex-pupils but eventually becomes first an ascetic monk and then the abbot of a newly founded monastery; but they all these characters and events are shown to be inter-related. The copy of the novel that I read has lots of orthographical mistakes, but I found none of substance. Some of the elements are questionable, such as the carrier pigeons or coffee, but Raymond addresses these in his concluding Author’s Note. There is some sex and assorted violence in the novel, but it should not be a bar to use by high-school history or Latin teachers for their students. Students may have some trouble keeping all the characters straight, but there is a convenient list at the end of the book, with the main facts about the characters and the identification of the real historical figures. I recommend this work to anyone looking for an action-packed but character-based novel that will both entertain and educate. -Fred Mench, Richard Stockton College, with Michael Glueck 8/03

- Fred Mench, with Michael Glueck, 8/1/2003

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