The book “The Lion of the Sun” is the third part of a five-volume historical novel entitled “Warrior of Rome”, in which the author Harry Sidebottom weaves the fate of a Romanized Briton – Ballista – into the whirlwind of battles in the east of the Roman Empire. This time the main character has to get out of Persian captivity, secure the situation in the East and find himself in the world of the intrigues of the Roman court.
The previous part of the novel, “King of Kings”, ended in such a way that the reader wants to reach for the next book. Ballista, having found himself in the personal entourage of Emperor Valerian I, went to settlement negotiations after losing the battle of Edessa in 259 CE. Aware of the betrayal of Makrian, the emperor’s trusted advisor, he ends up in Sassanid captivity, and the former ruler of the empire becomes the footstool of the ruler of Persia – Shapur I. In order to get out of captivity, the ballista must use all his cunning, and sometimes also perjury.
“Lion of the Sun”, like the previous parts, is extremely extensive in terms of plot, and the author skillfully mixes literary fiction with historical truth. Balista, having escaped from captivity, is chosen as one of the commanders of the Roman army, who is to expel the marauding Sassanids from Asia Minor. Meanwhile, both he and his familia have to deal with many problems and choices that can sometimes go against their self-esteem. Ballista must serve the traitors, Macrian and his sons are chosen as Caesars, and Julia must defend the lives of her children.
The historical period chosen by the author is certainly not accidental. Mid-3rd century CE is time of Rome’s enormous social and political problems. Borders are attacked by neighbors, the state is torn apart by usurpers, hungry for power and fame. In addition, the constantly developing Christianity gathers a growing number of followers who do not recognize the power and divinity of emperors and do not want to join the legions.
Harry Sidebottom, as a lecturer in ancient history at the University of Oxford, proves that he has not only great knowledge of the ancient world but also imagination. Through the extraordinary stories of the characters, he is able to present the life and mentality of various groups and social strata of antiquity. Importantly, despite a large amount of fiction, it preserves the historical truth and tries to show the characteristics of famous figures of the world in an interesting way.
Naturally, some may find the plot too fast and violent. The fates of the characters are sometimes very mixed. It’s the same with feelings. At one time Balista is filled with fury and vengeance, and at other times he is cold-hearted in achieving his goal. However, this is certainly a search for imperfections in the works of Sidebottom, who in my opinion proves with this and the other parts that writing historical novels is his great strength. In this part, we are also treated to numerous interesting words and ancient terms, the index of which is at the end of the novel. To better visualize the action, we have maps and detailed descriptions of the regions.
The third part, like the previous ones, is written in an interesting way so that the reading is not long in any case. The ending is shocking in its own way, which gives rise to ideas about the future of the hero, and thus encourages you to reach for the new fate of Ballista.