Fire in the Year of Four Emperors

Written by Rick Deragon
Review by Jackie Drohan

This riveting novel is set in 1st-century Rome following Nero’s rule. Galba, the governor of Spain, declares himself emperor. Four Roman generals battle for the throne during one of the most turbulent eras in imperial Roman history. The novel follows the unexpected rise of Batavian prince Julius Civilis, called “Rokus,” who successfully resisted Rome during the Britannia campaigns. He is charged with treason and jailed for sedition, having rebelled against Rome’s military drafting of Batavian youth.

The story begins after Rokus is freed by Emperor Galba to return to his homeland, Batavia, accompanied by Marius, an ambitious Roman veteran. Unbeknownst to Rokus, the true reason for his release is to facilitate the suppression of the Batavian and other northern tribes, and to impress more of their men into military service on behalf of Roman senators vying for power. Marius will be handsomely rewarded if successful.

Rokus’ journey home is marked by both external and internal battles when he realizes the true reason the Romans are returning him to Batavia. His personal motives also strengthen as he sets out to avenge the death of his brother at Rome’s hands, as the sheer ruthlessness of Roman brutality causes him to reevaluate this own inner nature.

The characters are rich and authentic, especially the prophetess Veleda and the tiny orphan girl Ulla, ravaged by war. Veleda predicts a new era for Batavia, one in which Rokus will play a key role. Through his growing paternal feelings for little Ulla, Rokus’ compassion is reborn, culminating in a battle against Marius and his own inner demons, and an inspired campaign for the liberation of his Batavian people. Replete with historical detail, this well-crafted story is recommended reading.