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My review of Boris Raymond's "The Twelfth Vulture of Romulus"

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  • Mary Harrsch
    Boris Raymond s first novel, The Twelfth Vulture of Romulus , is a commendable effort. A former professor of history and sociology at Dalhousie University in
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 21, 2003
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      Boris Raymond's first novel, "The Twelfth Vulture of Romulus", is a
      commendable effort. A former professor of history and sociology at
      Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, Raymond weaves
      his knowledge of the history and political processes of the late Roman
      Empire into a tale of intrigue and struggle for power between
      traditional Roman oligarchs and the increasing number of barbarian
      cultures who permeated Roman society both as slaves from the conquered
      lands and as members of Rome's auxiliaries, legions, and officer corps.

      The narrative swirls around the experiences of Orestes, a one-time
      secretary to Attila the Hun, who joins the ranks of the legions and,
      with his "qualifications of courage, industry, and experience, advanced
      with rapid steps in the military profession"1. In the process, he gains
      the notice of such prominent Roman aristocrats as Senator Aurelius
      Cassiodorus , chief of the Imperial Secret Service and ambassador to
      Attila during the reign of Emperor Valentinian III. His ultimate
      struggle for control of the Western Empire eventually pits Orestes
      against Odovacar, the son of Attila's lieutenant, Edecon.

      Raymond's portrayal of the culture of the Huns and the personage of
      Attila recall the observations of the Greek writer Priscus.

      "A luxurious meal, served on silver plate, had been made ready for us
      and the barbarian guests, but Attila ate nothing but meat on a wooden
      trencher. In everything else, too, he showed himself temperate; his cup
      was of wood, while to the guests were given goblets of gold and silver.
      His dress, too, was quite simple, affecting only to be clean. The sword
      he carried at his side, the latchets of his Scythian shoes, the bridle
      of his horse were not adorned, like those of the other Scythians, with
      gold or gems or anything costly." - Priscus, fr. 8 in Fragmenta
      Historicorum Graecorum.

      Raymond peoples his novel with many actual historical figures as well as
      fictional characters to shed insight into the politics and social life
      in the late Empire. I knew little about this period of Roman history
      before reading this book except the events portrayed in USA Network's
      miniseries, "Attila". So, I found the number of characters and their
      interconnections a bit overwhelming.

      I think I would have excluded some of the plot entanglements to provide
      a more easily understood core message for less experienced readers. For
      example, the subplot of the events leading up to the settlement of the
      holy man, Severinus, in Noricum could probably have been better served
      in a novel of its own.

      I also think Odovacar's experiences should have paralleled Orestes'
      throughout the novel to add more tension to the ultimate confrontation
      between the two men. Odovacar pretty much disappears about one-third of
      the way through the novel and does not resurface until the last few
      chapters. The reader is provided with a brief summary of his
      intervening experiences. But, since he will represent the fatal clash
      between the traditionalists and the Romanized barbarians that will
      inherit the Western Empire, I think his importance in the novel should
      have equaled that of Orestes to provide an antagonist of equal stature.

      However, the work reveals much about a period of history seldom explored
      in detail and it has served to stimulate my interest in a number of the
      individuals who took the world stage in this tumultuous time. I hope
      Dr. Raymond will continue to share his understanding of past cultures
      with a public audience in this way. I have always felt that reading
      works that combine history and creative writing is the most memorable
      way to gain a knowledge and appreciation of other societies.

      1 Gibbon, Edward. 1788. History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman
      Empire - Volume III

      Mary Harrsch
      Network & Information Systems Manager
      College of Education
      University of Oregon
      Eugene, OR 97403
      (541) 346-3554

      Commentary Section Editor
      The Technology Source
      <http://ts.mivu.org> http://ts.mivu.org

      Roman Times

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