The Scourge of God
Dietrich, author of the excellent Hadrian’s Wall, has once again brought the Roman Empire to life. It is 451, and the Empire is just barely holding on. Tribes such as the Vandals and Visigoths hold lands previously controlled by Rome. Young Jonas Alabanda finds himself sent on a diplomatic mission to Attila the Hun. The official reason for the mission is to provide gifts, with an assurance that the agreed-upon tribute will be forthcoming. However, one member of the diplomatic party has his own goal, which, when discovered, immediately destroys the entire mission. Jonas is enslaved. His nemesis is the young nephew of one of the leaders of a Hun tribe. Jonas and Skilla’s lives become entwined, along with that of a young captured Roman woman, Ilana.
Dietrich’s geographical scope is broad: from Constantinople to Attila the Hun’s camp in Hunugaria to today’s Austria, Spain and France. Living conditions are vividly described, as are the landscapes through which the characters move and the tribes occupying or moving into Europe. The clash of cultures is brought to life through the author’s evocative prose: “The Vandals, once disdained as hapless barbarians, now rested their boots on the throat of Rome.”
The book concludes with scenes from the horrific Battle of Châlons, where the gifted Roman general Aetius leads a motley army made up of Romans and men from a number of tribes against the Huns and their allies. The story of Jonas, Skilla and Ilana is riveting, providing a very human story at the forefront of the wide-scale events. Dietrich provides a lengthy historical note, which carefully explains what from his book actually happened, what is conjecture, and what he made up. Dietrich posits that the reason Attila is the one barbarian we remember is because of the immense sacrifice that was required to stop him. He will certainly live on vividly in the minds of those who read this powerful novel.