After decades of assault by barbarian tribes, Rome is weakening and in danger of being overrun. By a.d. 449, Attila, ruler of the Huns, has become Europe's most powerful monarch, his ferocity earning him the title "the Scourge of God." Now he is poised to assault the West.
It begins with an illicit affair. Honoria, sister of Valentinian III, emperor of the Western Roman Empire, creates a scandal when she is discovered in bed with her steward. Imprisoned for her indiscretion, Honoria sees the instrument of her deliverance in the form of the most feared warrior in the known world -- Attila. Desperate, she dispatches a messenger to the leader of the Huns, asking for his aid. Taking the entreaty as a marriage proposal, Attila begins to mass his forces to claim the half of the Roman Empire he feels should be his dowry, thus setting in motion the engines of war.
Fearing that open war with the ferocious Huns could destroy the empire, the Romans seek a clandestine solution. Dispatching a group of ambassadors to Attila's camp under the guise of seeking a diplomatic accord, the Roman leadership intends instead to corrupt one of Attila's lieutenants into an assassin, eliminating the threat by murdering the Hun leader.
Jonas, an ambitious intellectual, joins the party as its historian. But when the plot is discovered, he becomes much more. Taken hostage by the Huns, Jonas realizes that it will require all his skills in diplomacy, and some newfound skills with the sword, to survive. But survival isn't his only concern. Within the Hun camp he encounters Ilana, a Roman beauty imprisoned by the Huns and promised to one of their warriors. To attempt an escape alone would be foolhardy. To combine it with a rescue would be suicide. But Jonas knows he cannot leave the camp without Ilana, even if his devotion costs him his life.
As Jonas plans his escape, he seizes what could be a crucial element in the coming war between Rome and the Huns. Now his life isn't the only thing at stake. To save the empire and Ilana, Jonas must bring warning and an ancient sword to prepare Rome for the biggest battle in history, in which two vast armies will clash to determine the future of Western civilization.
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William Dietrich is the author of fourteen novels, including six previous Ethan Gage titles—Napoleon's Pyramids, The Rosetta Key, The Dakota Cipher, The Barbary Pirates, The Emerald Storm, and The Barbed Crown. Dietrich is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, historian, and naturalist. A winner of the PNBA Award for Nonfiction, he lives in Washington State.From Publishers Weekly:
Set in the dark final days of the Roman Empire, Dietrich's rousing fifth novel (after Hadrian's Wall, etc.) chronicles the bid of the charismatic Attila the Hun to conquer the West and dominate all of Europe. Standing in his way are the crumbling vestiges of the Roman Empire, now divided between West (Rome) and East (Constantinople) and still struggling with the adoption of Christian faith. The story of Attila's western march is given additional human dimension by a romance between Jonas Alabanda, a scribe assigned to an embassy mission to Attila from Theodosius II, emperor of the Eastern Empire, and Ilana, a gorgeous Roman taken by the Huns as a slave. Because of a foiled Roman plot to assassinate Attila, Jonas finds himself held hostage, but with the aid of a cunning and intrepid dwarf jester, Zerco, he manages to steal a legendary giant sword and upset Attila's plans and fortunes long enough for the Roman general Aetius to assemble the Germanic tribes into an effective defense force. Because the period is comparatively undocumented, the historical background is somewhat thin, and the standard-issue romance doesn't quite fill in the blanks. Still, the story unfolds swiftly and satisfyingly, and the confusing array of tribes and leaders are deftly presented--no mean feat.
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