From the moment I saw this book, I knew I wanted to read it, and not only because the cover is beautiful and very well done. Despite being an avid historical fiction devotee, I have read precious few books about the early Roman Empire. In all honesty, it was not a time period that drew my interest until I took Latin in college; my immediate love of the language planted a seed of interest in the ancient culture that dominated the landscape of the early Christian church. Not often do I have the opportunity to review a book based on this era, after the Diocletian persecutions. As Bryan Litfin remarks in his Historical Note section at the beginning of the book, The Conqueror is not a biblical novel, but rather a historical one, which sets the scene for the entire story.
Perhaps because it is intended to be primarily historical, The Conqueror leaves me feeling conflicted and struggling to tease out my thoughts. Amazon does not list it among Christian fiction, but because it is published by Revell, that is what I would expect, and the book summary lends credence to this. My issue is that it reads like a secular novel, with too much focus on “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Flavia is a devoted Christian, yet she seems unable to truly defend her faith and answer Rex’s questions; granted, she is a teenager, but given her privileged upbringing and the amount of time she spends engaged in helping the church, this seems implausible. Similarly, I would have liked to see more dynamic characters. Here, evil is evil and it seems like a missed opportunity at times to test the characters’ ability to change in more deliberate ways. I do, however, appreciate how Flavia and Rex’s stories converge, leading to more integrations as the story progresses.
Covering somewhat less than four years, from October 309 A.D to May 313, The Conqueror is an epic novel of the fight between the authorities of the day and between polytheism and Christianity. I think that it is safe to say that politics haven’t changed much over the years. Power grabbing, scandals, affairs, assassinations. Let’s just hope that we never see a return of the amphitheaters! As for the Roman army, I find the thorough training of the speculators such as Rex and his best friend Geta both interesting and disturbing, because they are taught to kill without compunction if necessary. I understand this concept in a war environment, but it can be taken to excess in less dire situations. I will say, though, that Litfin excels at keeping the plot moving with plenty of action, adventure, and drama. I enjoyed learning about the catholic (universal) church at this time in history, and about the Empire’s journey toward Christianity. In the opening indices, Litfin includes a list of the major characters in his story who were actual historical figures, a Gazetteer of Ancient and Modern Place Names, and a glossary of terms, all of which enrich and inform the reading experience.
My overall impressions are that if you enjoy historical fiction set in the ancient world and are not disturbed by violence or sensuality, you may enjoy this book.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell and was under no obligation to post a positive review. All opinions are my own.
My rating: 3 stars ♥♥♥
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