The book “King of Kings” is the second part of a five-volume historical novel entitled “Warrior of Rome”, in which the author Harry Sidebottom weaves the fate of the Romanized Briton – Ballista – into the war with the Sassanids in the East. The main character returns to the face of Emperor Valerian after a defeat and the loss of the strategically important Arete fortress. Ballista loses the trust of the ruler of Rome, which he tries to regain in many ways. The commander is sent to Ephesus to oversee the persecution of the rapidly expanding new religion – Christianity. With the imperial mandate, he is tasked with dealing with “worshippers of Christ” and organizing mass executions to the delight of the crowd. Meanwhile, Ballista has a guilty conscience and has to deal with spies and assassins hired by his opponents. Eventually, after failing to complete the task of Emperor Valerian, he sets off east, where he is to take part in a great military operation aimed at defeating “Great Shapur”.
In my opinion, the second part of the novel is worthy of the first one. The action is fast-paced, and new, interesting and intriguing characters appear. The main character is swarming with all sorts of assassins and court opponents. The author certainly deliberately chose this historical period of the Roman Empire. In the 3rd century CE, Rome struggled with many problems of a political and religious nature, e.g. barbarians on the borders, usurpers within the state, and a new religious movement. In this part, the author has focused on all factors, but it is the issue of Christianity that has been outlined most extensively. The author proved in the first part of the novel that he has a great knowledge of the political and military relations of the time. In this position, he perfectly outlines social and religious conflicts as well as the mentality of the Roman people. It shows the hatred of the masses towards the isolating Christians and the barbarity with which the followers of this movement were dealt. The main character finds himself in the very center of events, very often deciding the direction of persecution himself. Many times he finds himself at a crossroads and has to fight with remorse.
The author, of course, with his characteristic grace and knowledge of ancient militarism, describes the battles of the Romans with the Sasanids. In an interesting way, he acquaints us with the tactics of combat and the weapons of both sides. All these points are kept in sufficient quantity without overwhelming the reader with a mass of ancient terms. Latin names intertwined many times only add flavor and allow you to empathize with these times. For ease of reading, at the very end of the book (as in the first part) the author includes a list of characters and a glossary of words.
The plot, as in the first part, ends in such a way that the reader reaches for the continuation of the novel. A large dose of uncertainty about the further fate of the hero, intriguing times and the author’s great writing style encourage me to reach for the next part. I think that other readers who follow the fate of the barbarian Ballista will do the same.