Sunday, December 22, 2013

Review: The Lion and the Lamb by John Henry Clay

This book review appeared in the Historical Novel Review Issue 65, November 2013:

Britannia in the 4th century is very different to the earlier centuries of Roman occupation. By this time, Roman rule is settled, with the elite deeming themselves Roman but still retaining some of the old tribal ideals. This is where the story of brother and sister Paul and Amanda and Irish Eachna is played out. Paul and Amanda live in the rich villa country of the south, but circumstances see Paul fleeing his home and joining the beleaguered Roman Army in the north. Meanwhile Amanda is witness to the wider politics of late Roman Britain in all its complexity. Eachna is enslaved, cruelly, and escapes southward toward Hadrian’s Wall and another life.

This book very much feels as though the author had ideas of the story he wanted to tell, perhaps showing how different the Late Roman era was from the earlier Empire. So a series of marks need to be hit, such as Christianity, politics, slavery, army, civilians, etc. But this means that the plot rather exceeds the characters. For the most part, the story of the individuals does not really leap off the page, except for a few scenes where it really shines. There are one or two slips in material culture: were there hairbrushes in 4th- century Britain? Would a character view the sky as being velvet? But overall the setting feels authentic, and the plot succeeds in showing that by the 4th century the Empire was becoming unstable, and changing into something very different.

This review can be found online on the Historical Novel Society's website at:

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