Every Knee Shall Bow (Constantine’s Empire)

Written by Bryan Litfin
Review by Thomas j. Howley

In 316 AD, much of western civilization is at a crossroads. The Roman Empire, which rules most of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, is on the verge of adopting Christianity under Emperor Constantine. Yet even within Christianity there are competing sects and heretical views, and there is still a substantial movement to retain the old gods. Bishop Sylvester of Rome seeks to unify the Christians under the sponsorship of Constantine and maintain Rome as the Christian epicenter. He enlists a young novice nun, Flavia, who is of noble heritage, to travel to petition the emperor to support Rome’s position. Flavia, in turn, has the welcome assistance of Rex, a Germanic warrior also of noble heritage, who is also a highly trained Roman military special operations soldier with many skills. They travel, along with clerical companions, in a world torn by war and enmeshed in espionage and intrigue, seeking to make Sylvester’s vision of a unified Roman church a reality.

This is the second book in a trilogy and, like the first, is an illuminating and intelligent masterpiece. The author has the educational background and gifted literary ability to vividly and seamlessly describe the diverse peoples, places, and competing beliefs of the time in an engaging manner—the mark of a historical fiction master. Maps and glossaries aid the reader. There seem to be fascinating tidbits to discover every few pages: some bishops and clergy could be married, olive oil was used for shaving cream, nuns’ celibacy vows were meant to be temporary, and the seat of the church could easily have been in Alexandria, Egypt.

Mixing romance, espionage, ancient land and maritime warfare, and religious history, this is a rather long book which surprisingly reads lightning-fast. I reviewed the first and can’t wait for the next in the series. Strongly recommended.