There are interesting stories alluded to in Sarah Walton’s Rufius, including the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria, the repository for many ancient manuscripts that are lost to us forever. The story of how the Christian Bible was assembled is also referred to: supposed heretic texts that contradicted the approved story were destroyed, and the followers of those texts persecuted. Unfortunately, Walton has chosen to use those stories as backdrop only, focusing instead on her transgressive protagonist Rufius and his passion for his young adolescent ward, Aeson.
Walton makes it clear that Rufius’ sexual preferences are unusual; that as a cinaedus, a man who enjoys penetration, he was more likely to prefer adult men. Some writers have written brilliantly about forbidden relationships, Lolita being the obvious example, but Walton is no Nabokov, and Rufius lacks an examination of the tension between what readers might find morally repulsive and what characters find enjoyable.
Rufius is not a terrible book, and it contains some interesting characters, particularly Aeson, but it does fall short of its potential. Ominous prophecies are uttered in the opening chapters but abandoned by the end. When Rufius is watching the destruction of the books around him he thinks of Euripides’ Bacchae, certain to be “on the Archbishop’s heretical hitlist”, but the Bacchae survived. How much better it would have been to choose or invent a text known to be lost to us? This is a small misstep, but it is indicative of the larger missteps taken with what could have been a great book.