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