Lord of Silver

Written by Alan Fisk
Review by Sandra Garside-Neville

In the Museum of London there is a Roman roof tile with a message written into the wet clay just after the tile had been made. It says that Austalis has been going off by himself for 13 days. This book speculates why this message might have been written. Was it just the idle scribbling of a bored and nosy tilemaker, or was it something more sinister?
Austalis, a young warrior from beyond Hadrian’s Wall, visits Roman Britain. He is looking for a religion, and for the famed Roman civilisation that his father worked within as a soldier before retiring to the Gododdin. Austalis samples various religions, and on the way finds a woman to love. He also meets some of the major players in the history of fourth century Britain such as Magnus Maximus and Pelagius. But he is ultimately rejected by the Roman society that he so admires, and wreaks havoc by seeking to arrange an alliance of barbarian forces to attack Britain.
Chief among Lord Of Silver’s virtues is its communication of otherness: Austalis has very different attitudes from modern day people, and from the Romans. There is a strong whiff of authenticity about the behaviour of Austalis and other characters. However, this can also create distance, making it difficult for the reader to understand motivations and emotions. In staying with cultural differences, and not picking up on human similarities, Fisk’s characters remain rather enigmatic. The story has very broad scope — the whole of Britain, plus part of the Continent, which would be a challenge for any author. The author does not get bogged down in unnecessary detail, but the tale is generally low-key in tone.
There is much in this book to provoke thought about the various cultures within Britain (and beyond) during the late fourth century. Rome’s grip on the western parts of the Empire in the fourth century was substantially faltering, and the book illustrates this well. Lord Of Silver shows the reader less well-known peoples (and aspects) of the fourth century, and of course it is these peoples who prevailed in the fifth century.