The Barbarian

Written by Douglas Jackson
Review by Chiara Prezzavento

It’s 406 AD, Roman Britannia is going to pieces, and former Lord of the Wall Marcus Flavius Victor is in trouble. It’s hardly a novel condition to the man who once pulled a dangerous gambit that saved Britannia, but left him with an unsavoury reputation. Now Marcus’s doubtful past is catching up with him, though, and everyone wants him dead – including Honorius, the Emperor of the West in faraway Ravenna. The only hope seems to come from old friend Stilicho, Honorius’s powerful father-in-law – but, before he can move west and join Stilicho, Marcus must rescue his son, captured in a Saxon raid years ago… Will Marcus and his ragtag cavalry band find the boy – not to mention their way across the ravaged remnants of the empire? And what dangers await them in Ravenna?

In tackling this most fascinating time, the 5th century, when Rome was crumbling under the pressure of Barbarian invasions and its own weight, Jackson does a great job of showing the unsettled feeling, the political turmoil, and the difficult plight of those generals who were of Barbarian origin – like the fictional Marcus and the historical Stilicho. That said, I found the story a little episodic in places, and couldn’t warm to the characters (Brenus and Anastasia especially baffled me – and I have to wonder at Valeria’s military role). Still, an enjoyable portrayal of an interesting period.