A Man at Arms

Written by Steven Pressfield
Review by Xina Marie Uhl

Jerusalem and the Sinai Desert, 55 AD. Two decades have passed since the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, and the fledgling Christian church struggles to survive amidst the brutal fist of the Roman Empire. When a letter from Paul the Apostle makes its way to Corinth, Roman authorities mean to stop it by any means necessary. They choose solitary mercenary Telamon to track down the letter, because he seems impenetrable to any incentive other than money.

Jewish street urchin David attaches himself to Telamon, and it is through his eyes that we learn about the man at arms. A hardened soldier, Telamon has walled himself off from human relationships and refuses even to name his horses, because such an action would give them a wedge into his cold heart.

The man and the boy set off across the desert after their quarry, a mysterious proselyte named Michael. Telamon teaches David the ways of a Roman legionary, and soon enough they reach the man Michael, accompanied by his daughter, who doesn’t speak. Telamon’s goal then switches to save them and the powerful words of Paul the Apostle.

The desert becomes a harsh but glittering world under Pressfield’s deft authorial hands. The relentless chase that occupies much of the book is filled both with wonder and terror, and some parts of the adventure require readers who have strong stomachs. Replete with Roman military terms, the book provides a vivid look into a legionary’s life. Historical research and a deeply human story bring the world to life in this compelling adventure.