The Sword of Attila


The Sword of Attila opens in 451 AD, on a battlefield in Gaul where hundreds of thousands of men and horses lay dead or dying. This is the story of two men, once friends, General Aetius and Attila the Hun, and the events that led them to the Battle of Chalons that fateful June day (a battle considered to have saved Western civilization).

Sent as a hostage to live with the Huns as a young man, Aetius fights alongside Attila in their youth. When Aetius returns to Rome and Attila becomes king, Attila begins his conquest of the West; friendship and past loyalties play no part. As Attila and his armies ravage all in their path, Aetius amasses his own supporters to defend Rome. Although the title suggests a focus on Attila, the tale which unfolds largely follows Flavius Aetius as he struggles to preserve the ideals of Rome, in spite of its realities.

Ford is known for his attention to military detail in his previous novels (The Ten Thousand, The Last King, and Gods and Legions), and he does not disappoint with this one. Ford’s descriptions of the battles are vivid, and sometimes difficult to read in their intensity. My one small criticism would be that the dialogue is occasionally clunky, used as thinly disguised exposition (for example, “You know, of course, that a few months after you left, Rome was sacked”), but this in no way detracts from an exhilarating story. Recommended.

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