Book Reviews at roman history books and more…
by Patrick Larkin
The author writes on his website:
“The Tribune is the first book I've written under my own name, and it is the first in a planned series involving the same lead characters. Writing The Tribune offered me the chance to begin telling a thrilling story – a story that blends action, adventure, history, romance, and a hint of the supernatural. I think you'll like it.”
Well, this reader didn't. Maybe Mr. Larkin needed a better editor.
The storyline itself is promising: Lucius Aurelius Valens, a young tribune and protegé of Germanicus, stationed in Syria in the early years of the Empire and valuing honor above all, gets entangled in intrigues of greed and politics and becomes an unsuccessful whistleblower sent into comparative exile, a border command in Judaea. He gets acquainted with a teenage Paul on his way to his studies in Jerusalem and takes him into his entourage. Valens survives his adventures and has an amazing future in the history of the early Christian church. This could have been the beginning of an entertaining series of novels.
The problem, however, is twofold. The action and adventure part becomes repetitive and one suspects the ambition for a screenplay in the Gladiator vein, with the lead character accomplishing astonishing feats. (The adventure eventually takes its supernatural turn when the protagonist's luck runs out: He receives a deadly wound, but is miraculously healed by a carpenter from Nazara.) The writing is often wooden. The combination does not make for smooth reading, unfortunately.
Mr. Larkin obviously has done research, as the links on his website indicate, and the military part certainly reads rather authentic. As do the descriptions of the landscape in which the story takes place. However, one would have wished for an afterword commenting on the fictional and real characters in the book. Not many are real: Piso, Germanicus and Agrippina, Herod Antipas, Paul. All make comparatively brief appearances, except Paul of course. Then there is the senator Decimus Junius Silanus – presumably the one who committed adultery with Julia – but it is doubtful whether Tiberius fully reinstated him, let alone sending him on a delicate mission to Judaea.
In the end, readers have to make up their own mind whether they are as riveted by the story as other reviewers claim they were. This being a paperback, it's not much waste of outlay.
However one thing the book certainly is not. The following comparison to other authors on the “Praise” list compiled by the publisher borders on the ridiculous:
“The Tribune does for ancient Rome what The Name of the Rose did for medieval Europe and Gorky Park did for the corrupt Soviet Union.” – Kevin J. Anderson, bestselling author of Dune: The Butlerian Jihad.
© 2003 Irene B. Hahn
The Tribune: A Novel of Ancient Rome
by Patrick Larkin
Paperback, 392 pages
Signet, June 3, 2003
List Price: US$7.99
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