The Mask of Command

Written by Ian Ross
Review by Marilyn Sherlock

We are back in the 4th century for this tale about the closing years of the Roman Empire, which has split in two, Constantine ruling in Rome and the western provinces while Licinius has claimed those in the east. United by treaty, they rule the empire between them, but trouble is brewing. Tribes on the fringes begin to rebel against Roman rule and await their opportunity to throw off the Roman yoke altogether. Christianity, the new religion, is gaining in popularity. Treachery, treason, and even blackmail are the order of the day, and the latest black spot is on the Rhine. Aurelius Castus is ordered to go sort it out, but things become more complicated when he finds that his own young son, Sabinus, has become a pawn in the game, along with Constantine’s young heir, Crispus.

I have read many books on the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, but this author was new to me. I found this novel well-paced, a real page-turner in fact, with incidental characters as believable as the genuine, historical figures. There are tension and seemingly unsolvable catastrophes as well as personal emotions, which all combine for a very enjoyable and informative read. The maps help place the story within its proper geographical boundaries while the historical notes at the end put it all into perspective. I would encourage readers to read these notes first.

This is the fourth book dealing with the breakup of the Roman Empire, and I will certainly look out for the earlier three books in the series.