The Legions of Fire
Tor, May 11 2010, $25.99
In Carce, the center of civilization, bookworm Varus, son of Senator Gaius Saxa, is to do a reading. Attending it is his classmate and friend Corylus, son of commander Publius Cispius. At the recital of the epic poem, Varus abruptly makes strange predictions of the end of days beginning count down.
His young shrewish stepmother Hedia holds the avaricious wizard Nemastes culpable for Varus’ outrageous embarrassing behavior. However, besides Varus, Corylus and his sister Alphena were engulfed by visions during the recital. None are aware that to the north on a remote volcanic isle, mages have begun a final ritual that will enable beasts from beyond this realm to enter and destroy mankind. Four residents of Carce with diverse skills are all that stand in the way to prevent total extinction.
The key to this sort of historical fantasy is how wonderfully David Drake captures the essence of the patrician nobility of Rome, which brings freshness to the quest. The quartet of heroes is fully developed with different skills, knowledge and attitudes. Corylus brings military strategic experience to the mix; Alphena possesses combat skills; Hedia is brilliant though volatile; and Varus has a connection to the beyond. Together they may save the realm; separately they have no chance as the Legion of Fire is an enjoyable first tale.