The Eagle and the Dragon
It started with a gamble. While facing execution at the hand of the Parthians following the battle of Carrhae, the last surviving regiment of Roman soldiers strikes a bargain with a visiting Chinese emissary. Instead of being executed, they pledge to guard China’s borders. Over 100 years later, the descendants of these soldiers return to Rome with a Chinese delegation. This leads to Rome’s first mission to China to establish trade relations. A senator, two soldiers, the Chinese delegates, and the Romans translating for them undertake this adventure. Their journey crosses thousands of miles over land and sea. But the mission is beset by deadly ocean storms, double-crossing sailors, cultural friction, and false accusations. When trouble brews in the Chinese court, can the Romans survive to make it home?
The story’s foundation, including its vast setting and multicultural courts, is well drawn. The chapters are often accompanied by small but extremely helpful maps illustrating the progression of this epic journey. However, the spoken references, expressions, and metaphors are often glaringly modern. A couple of examples include “old and crotchety” (from the 19th century) and references to different characters’ weights (scales of mass were not invented until the 17th century). The author really never gets into the mindset of the time period, thus making it hard to connect with the plot. The narrative is also saturated with “show and tell” storytelling and repetitive information that slows the pace. The author has done a lot of research, including how to narrate different patterns of speech (from high Latin to “dirty soldier” Latin). However, characters are the key to a story, and I found them to be too modern-thinking and -speaking to be believable.