One Summer in Arcadia

Written by Bill Page
Review by Jim Burnside

Bill Page clearly has an infectious and scholarly insight into late Roman Britain, which he sets as an intimate and colourful background for One Summer In Arcadia. This referential framework permeates all aspects of his compelling story without ever becoming obtrusive or seeming academic.

The main plot involves a three-way relationship between Canio, a retired infantry officer; Trifosa his young and beautiful consort (and slave) and Antoninus, retired Cavalry officer, son and heir of Trifosa’s cruel, original master, Censorinus. The means by which Canio has come by his fortune, involving reference to other soldiers, a hoard of gold coins and the activity of a young priestess, Vilbia, is not fully revealed as it features in a previous novel, The Sower of the Seeds of Dreams (not read by this reviewer). Lunaris, an imperial tax official blackmails Canio into spying on Antoninus. Lunaris has a grudge to settle in respect to Censorinus’ heir in which his father and brother were involved in a plot to secede Britain from the Roman Empire. He is a brutal and tainted character, against whom Canio feels obliged to take violent action and assumes he has killed in self-defence.

Interwoven with the main action is a gentle evocation of the search for security in life, love and conviction, common to all the major players yet tempered by Canio’s liberal but worldly incredulity.

Be warned that the writer sets out to gently draw his readers into certain assumptions and it is difficult to offer precise detail of a series of subtle plot twists without giving away too much…so I shall remain silent.