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N.S. Gill

Harry Sidebottom's King of Kings

By October 30, 2010

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King of Kings - Warrior of Rome, by Harry Sidebottom, from the Overlook Press (2010), is the second in a series of Roman historical fiction taking place in the mid-3rd century A.D. It focuses on anti-Christian sentiment, power struggles at the court of a feeble emperor, Valerian, and the relations between the Roman and Sassanid empires, the latter under Shapur. Roman Emperor Valerian with Persian King Shapur The protagonist is a Roman citizen and (real) military commander named Ballista, but he's just a northern barbarian, in the eyes of many of the Romans. Sidebottom presents a view of the imperial court and court intrigue from this outsider's perspective. There are assassination attempts against Ballista, and other insidious treachery that Sidebottom works into the storyline well. What is unsatisfactory is the appeal of the central character. Why should we care about him? Presumably this is covered in the first volume, which I didn't read, but I found it hard to worry over whether he would succumb to concealed blades. His wife was even less appealing.

Should you read it? If you want an historical fiction introduction to A.D. 256 and the Sassanid Persians, or Roman warfare of the period, definitely. If you read the first volume of the Warrior of Rome trilogy, you'll probably want to read this sequel. A third is coming.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

Picture of the humiliation of the Emperor Valerian at the hands of Shapur © Clipart.com.

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October 30, 2010 at 5:11 pm
(1) David Emery says:

This certainly seems to be a -lukewarm- review…

October 30, 2010 at 6:23 pm
(2) ancienthistory says:

Yes. It wasn’t hard or bad to read and the history is good.I think it helps fill a void, since it’s not the most popular period for historical fiction (yet?). I’m not a literary critic, so I hate to overstate what I judge to be the stylistic bad points. I think if I had read the first volume it would have been better, but the book should, and by and large does stand alone. I wonder how much the author feared to distort the real historical figure on whom he based the central character.

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