The Sword of Attilla: Total War: Rome

Written by David Gibbins
Review by Gordon O'Sullivan

If the first novel in this Total War: Rome series concerned the birth of the Roman Empire, The Sword of Attila describes its death throes. Set 600 years after Destroy Carthage, David Gibbins’ new book sees the western Empire in extremis, with the Vandals, the Huns and the Visigoths all darkening the horizon. The author throws into that dire situation Flavius, a young Roman officer, and his loyal sidekick, Macrobius, men trying desperately to stand firm as everyone around them stands aside. Add in a mythic and mysterious British monk called Arturus, the last great Roman general, Aetius, and a daring plan to enter the belly of the Huns’ beast for the sacred sword of Attila, and you have the ingredients for some pacy military historical fiction.

Intended as both an addition and a complement to the computer game, Total War: Rome, this novel attempts to provide a military and political education for both Flavius and the reader, and this is its strength and its weakness. Buttressed by excellent research and a keen sense of atmosphere, The Sword of Attila has a fascinating time period in which to play, and the sense of a world ending is very strongly conveyed. The short length of the novel and the pace at which Gibbins cracks through his story mean the lacunae in his plotting and characterisation aren’t dwelt on as we leap through the period in short intense bursts. For the gaming reader, there is detailed information on tactics, weapons, uniforms and the politics that underpinned and undermined Rome, but for the historical fiction fan, the characters and story suffer at the hands of an overload of information dump. Ultimately the novel loses its way between the poles of education and entertainment.