Dark North

Written by Gillian Bradshaw
Review by Sarah Cuthbertson


Were there Africans in the Roman Army? The Historia Augusta describes an Ethiopian soldier presenting Emperor Septimius Severus with an omen of death near Hadrian’s Wall during his campaign against a troublesome barbarian confederation. An inscription from the Wall fort of Aballava (Burgh-by-Sands) mentions a regiment of Aurelian Moors stationed there in the 3rd century AD. From these snippets Gillian Bradshaw has created a story of danger, intrigue and backfiring practical jokes set in 208 AD.

Memnon is her Ethiopian, a likeable cove who saves the lives of the Emperor’s chamberlain and his lover, the Empress’s secretary. From them, he discovers that Severus’s sons Geta and Caracalla, whom the emperor has brought on campaign to teach them a few lessons, are engaged in a vicious power struggle. Inevitably, Memnon finds himself embroiled.

Bradshaw writes fluently on her favourite theme of outsiders in Roman culture, but this novel seems too long for its story, sagging in the middle before picking up again toward the end.