bookrev: The Scourge of God by William Dietrich

5 stars: The Huns vs. the Romans; excellent historical fiction

As with his other books, William Dietrich gives his readers an excellent blend of historical fact and adventure, this time centering on the invasion and last great battles of Attila the Hun, attacking a crumbling Roman empire.

Set in the years around 450AD, the historical characters of Attila, the Roman General Aetius and a host of others are intertwined with believable fictional protaganists:
– Jonas Alabanda, a young Roman from Constantinople, enlisted in the ill fated diplomatic mission to Attila that harbors a plot to assasinate the Hun leader;
– Ilana, a Roman woman whose city is ravaged by the Huns, her father and fiance killed, and she taken as a slave;
– Skilla, a Hun fighter and future warlord, fighting for Attila and against Jonas for Ilana’s favor.

Jonas journey leads him from the comforts of Constantinople (the Roman capital in the east) into Attila’s camp, a different world where battle and survival rule. While appearing simply barbaric at first, Jonas comes to realize that the Hun way of life could replace the Roman civilization if Attila’s march is unchecked. Forced into slavery after the uncovering of the assination plot, Jonas is forced to fight Skilla for Ilana. He later escapes, losing Ilana in the process, but finds himself thrust headlong into the ultimate Battle of Nations, as Jonas helps the Roman General Aetius diplomatically assemble the armies of Roman and the western barbarians to meet Attila’s barbarian horde, with Ilana in tow. They meet in the Battle of Nations, to decide the fate of Western Civilization.

As with Mr. Dietrich’s other novels, the blend of historical fact with adventure and fictional characters makes for a well-paced read. The descriptions of the battles, the contrast of life in Constantinople vs. life with the Huns and other barbarians, and the imagined descriptions of great and minor historical characters are all well written. Sometimes a backward looking historical perspective intrudes on the main character, but the information provided helps put the fictional story into factual context.

Highly recommended, as are Bill’s other novels I have read (Napolean’s Pyramids and Getting Back).

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