Attila, The Judgement
AD 449. In this, the final volume of Napier’s ambitious trilogy, Attila has united the Hun tribes. Streaming off the steppes to the banks of the Danube, the horde is poised to sweep down on the crumbling Roman Empire. With porous borders, a restless, unreliable population, and two bickering emperors, one in Ravenna, one in Constantinople—both incompetent—the once-great empire has been reduced to vulnerable chaos. Her only hope lies in Master-General Aëtius. Napier follows the theory that Attila was held as a hostage in Rome. He escaped back to the steppes where he may have met Aëtius, definitely a hostage with the Huns. Friends as boys, now they are to meet as enemies. Both men must gamble. For Attila, the prize is hated Rome herself; for Aëtius, the empire’s survival.
The novel opens with the siege of a Roman Danube fort covering over one hundred blood-soaked, absolutely riveting pages. After such a spectacular start, lulls are inevitable but they are few. Napier excels at battle scenes—just as well—but he has also created many colourful characters. Of the real ones, Aëtius is the most interesting but there are other secondary, invented figures that, despite their modern dialogue, engage the reader. Attila himself is a hard nut to crack, and I am not sure Napier manages this. As a child in the first volume, he was convincing, even appealing, but as one of history’s greatest warriors, he comes across as a bit of a cliché. That, however, detracts very little from the success of the novel as a whole.
Obviously, a novel about Attila should not be for the faint-hearted and squeamish. I am both. But this trilogy is a triumph: beautifully written, fast paced and seeming as historically accurate as is possible for such a misty epoch.