Attila: The Gathering of the Storm
This is William Napier’s second part of his Attila trilogy. The novel is set in the 5th century, with the Western Roman Empire ruled by regional warlords who owed nominal loyalty at best to the emperor in Rome, and an eastern emperor whose authority centred on the eastern Mediterranean. Sub-titled the ‘Gathering Storm’, the novel tells of Attila’s powerful ambition to reunite the dispersed tribes of Huns and Scythians, which drives him and his chosen men to fight bandits, other Huns, a mountain kingdom and the Chinese until he has a strong enough army to lead the Huns into the Roman Empire.
Told from a mixture of viewpoints, the dominant voice is the imperial official and historian Priscus, who holds the narrative threads together. Attila stars as the hero archetype, who had been exiled, gained guile and strength, and returns to lead his people. The ruthless barbarism of the Huns is emphatic, and Attila is only distanced from them by his supreme force. Whether one accepts this unrelenting picture is open to debate. Napier’s stark characterisation of the Huns extends to other 5th century peoples: the Vandals are destructive, the court in Constantinople obsessed with ceremonial and theological disputes, and the Goths are living the good life in southern Gaul.
Napier uses a sparse vocabulary and muted imagery to successfully convey the vast seemingly unending steppes, its emptiness and hostility to man and beast. His descriptions of battles and conflict are highly charged, and an exciting read. The novel is a boy’s own adventure for adults. If you are expecting the earlier Julian by Gore Vidal or the later Belisarius of Robert Graves, you may be disappointed, but if you want an action-packed, eventful historical novel you should enjoy this book.