Scourge of God

( 15 )


For fans of the movie Gladiator comes this bloody account of the clashing of civilizations, as Attila the Hun, "The Scourge of God," struggles to overthrow the Roman Empire.

The Roman Empire is weakening. In 367 AD, approximately eight years after the great battle at Hadrian's Wall, Roman garrisons begin to hear rumors of barbarian tribes massing to the north. By 449 AD, Attila, the ruler of the Huns, has become the continent's most powerful ...

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For fans of the movie Gladiator comes this bloody account of the clashing of civilizations, as Attila the Hun, "The Scourge of God," struggles to overthrow the Roman Empire.

The Roman Empire is weakening. In 367 AD, approximately eight years after the great battle at Hadrian's Wall, Roman garrisons begin to hear rumors of barbarian tribes massing to the north. By 449 AD, Attila, the ruler of the Huns, has become the continent's most powerful monarch, his reputation in battle earning him the title "The Scourge of God."

Anticipating an imminent attack by the Huns, Roman leaders negotiate with one of Attila's lieutenants, convincing him to play the part of assassin. He is joined on his mission by a Roman citizen, Jonas, an ambassador dispatched to negotiate a peace treaty with the Huns. When the plot is discovered, Jonas becomes a hostage, forced to fight for his captors if he wishes to remain alive. But he soon learns that Attila intends to conquer Rome itself, and is caught between two mighty empires, both poised for one of the greatest conflicts the world has ever seen. Jonas, knowing his life could be forfeit, has the potential to tip the battle in either direction––and his decision will alter the face of Western civilization.

For readers of historically nuanced thrillers and adventure stories by authors like Bernard Cornwell and Colleen McCullough.

For readers interested in Roman and Barbarian culture and warfare.

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Editorial Reviews

Margaret George
William Dietrich's The Scourge of God does well with both fact and fancy. It's a romance in the original meaning of the term: lots of adventure, swashbuckling, maidens in distress, magic swords and so on. Still, it manages to be surprisingly accurate in its depiction of the waning days of the Roman empire, the character of Attila and even some of the wildest events, which sound as if they were made up but are not.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Set in the dark final days of the Roman Empire, Dietrich's rousing fifth novel (after Hadrian's Wall, etc.) chronicles the bid of the charismatic Attila the Hun to conquer the West and dominate all of Europe. Standing in his way are the crumbling vestiges of the Roman Empire, now divided between West (Rome) and East (Constantinople) and still struggling with the adoption of Christian faith. The story of Attila's western march is given additional human dimension by a romance between Jonas Alabanda, a scribe assigned to an embassy mission to Attila from Theodosius II, emperor of the Eastern Empire, and Ilana, a gorgeous Roman taken by the Huns as a slave. Because of a foiled Roman plot to assassinate Attila, Jonas finds himself held hostage, but with the aid of a cunning and intrepid dwarf jester, Zerco, he manages to steal a legendary giant sword and upset Attila's plans and fortunes long enough for the Roman general Aetius to assemble the Germanic tribes into an effective defense force. Because the period is comparatively undocumented, the historical background is somewhat thin, and the standard-issue romance doesn't quite fill in the blanks. Still, the story unfolds swiftly and satisfyingly, and the confusing array of tribes and leaders are deftly presented-no mean feat. Agent, Andrew Stuart. (Mar. 18) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A military juggernaut stands poised to conquer Europe, and it seems nothing can stop it. The year: 451. At its head is Attila the Hun, so feared that the Roman Empire, shaking in its boots, has been shipping him annual payoffs just so he'll leave them reasonably intact. But extortion is becoming unbearably expensive. What, then, are the alternatives? Diplomacy? Absurd. The Hun can neither read nor write, much less grasp the subtleties of a proper negotiation. What the Hun can do is butcher, shoot arrows over incredible distances with jaw-dropping accuracy, and ride pell-mell through Roman streets, "contemptuous of anyone slow enough to be trampled over." If not diplomacy, how about treachery? To Emperor Valentinian and the rest of the Roman high command, that seems not merely sensible but viable. A plan is hatched: An imperial embassy will journey to Attila's lair in far-off Hunuguri, ostensibly to parlay about the amount of the current year's tribute. In reality, however, assassination is the object of the mission, since the Romans believe they have successfully corrupted a Hun lieutenant who can get close enough to Attila to be his Brutus. Joining the embassy-though ignorant of its darker aspects-is Jonas Alabanda, young, brave and callow. His fortunes are at a low ebb and his self-esteem lower still-thanks to Olivia having "discarded him like an old sandal" in favor of a richer suitor-so he's signed on eagerly as embassy scribe and historian. In rough and ready Hunuguri, Jonas will lose his innocence, fall in love, best his enemies and, temporarily at least, help preserve the Roman Empire. As always, Dietrich (Hadrian's Wall, 2004, etc.) has a firm grip on setting, but his cast isstandard issue for historical fiction-especially his underimagined, surprisingly pallid Attila, who couldn't scourge his way out of a paper bag.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060735081
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/31/2006
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 518,184
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

William Dietrich is the author of fourteen novels, including six previous Ethan Gage titles—Napoleon's Pyramids, The Rosetta Key, The Dakota Cipher, The Barbary Pirates, The Emerald Storm, and The Barbed Crown. Dietrich is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, historian, and naturalist. A winner of the PNBA Award for Nonfiction, he lives in Washington State.

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First Chapter

The Scourge of God

Chapter One

Brother and Sister

Ravenna, A.D. 449

"My sister is a wicked woman, bishop, and we are here to save her from herself," the emperor of the Western Roman Empire said. His name was Valentinian III, and his character was unfortunate evidence of dynastic decay. He was of only middling intelligence, without martial courage and with little interest in governance. Valentinian preferred to spend his time in sport, pleasure, and the company of magicians, courtesans, and whichever senatorial wives he could seduce in order to gain the greater pleasure of humiliating their husbands. He knew his talents did not match those of his ancestors, and his private admission of inferiority produced feelings of resentment and fear. Jealous and spiteful men and women, he believed, were always conspiring against him. So he'd brought the prelate for tonight's execution because he needed the church's approval. Valentinian relied on the beliefs of others in order to believe in himself.

It was important for his sister, Honoria, to recognize that she had no champions in either the secular world or the religious, the emperor had persuaded the bishop. She was rutting with a steward like a base kitchen trollop, and this little surprise was really a gift. "I am saving my sister from a trial as traitor in this world and from damnation in the next."

"No child is beyond salvation, Caesar," Bishop Milo assured. He shared complicity in this rude surprise because he and the girl's wily mother, Galla Placidia, needed money to complete a new church in Ravenna that would help guarantee their own ascent into heaven. Placidia was as embarrassed by her daughter's indiscretion as Valentinian was afraid of it; and support of the emperor's decision would be repaid by a generous donation to the Church from the imperial treasury. God, the bishop believed, worked in mysterious ways. Placidia simply assumed that God's wishes and her own were the same.

The emperor was supposed to be in musty and decaying Rome, conferring with the Senate, receiving ambassadors, and participating in hunts and social gatherings. Instead, he had galloped out four nights ago unannounced, accompanied by a dozen soldiers handpicked by his chamberlain, Heraclius. They would strike at Honoria before her plans ripened. It was the chamberlain's spies who had brought word that the emperor's sister was not just sleeping with her palace steward -- a reckless fool named Eugenius -- but also was plotting with him to murder her brother and seize power. Was the story true? It was no secret that Honoria considered her brother indolent and stupid and that she believed she could run imperial affairs more ably than he could, on the model of their vigorous mother. Now, the story went, she intended to put her lover on the throne with herself as augusta, or queen. It was all rumor, of course, but rumor that smacked of the truth: The vain Honoria had never liked her sibling. If Valentinian could catch them in bed together it would certainly prove immorality, and perhaps treason as well. In any event, it would be excuse enough to marry her off and be rid of her.

The emperor excused his own romantic conquests as casually as he condemned those of his sister. He was a man and she was a woman and thus her lustfulness, in the eyes of man and God, was more offensive than his.

Valentinian's entourage had crossed the mountainous spine of Italy and now approached the palaces of Ravenna in the dark, pounding down the long causeway to this marshy refuge. While easy to defend from barbarian attack, the new capital always struck Valentinian as a dreamlike place, divorced from the land and yet not quite of the sea. It floated sepa-rately from industry or agriculture, and the bureaucracy that had taken refuge there had only a tenuous grip on reality. The water was so shallow and the mud so deep that the wit Apollinaris had claimed the laws of nature were repealed in Ravenna, "where walls fall flat and waters stand, towers float and ships are seated." The one advantage of the new city was that it was nominally safe, and that was no small thing in today's world. Treacheries were everywhere.

The life of the great was a risky one, Valentinian knew. Julius Caesar himself had been assassinated, almost five hundred years before. The gruesome endings of emperors since was a list almost too long to memorize: Claudius poisoned; Nero and Otho both suicides; Caracalla, the murderer of his brother, who was assassinated in turn; Constantine's half brothers and nephews virtually wiped out; Gratian murdered; Valentinian II found mysteriously hanged. Emperors had died in battle, of disease, debauchery, and even of the fumes from newly applied plaster, but most of all from the plottings of those closest. It would have been a shock if his cunning sister had not conspired against him. The emperor was more than ready to hear his chamberlain's whisperings of a plot, because he had expected no less since being elevated to the purple at the age of five. He had reached his present age of thirty only by fearful caution, constant suspicion, and necessary ruthlessness. An emperor struck, or was struck down. His astrologers confirmed his fears, leaving him satisfied and them rewarded.

So now the emperor's party dismounted in the shadow of the gate, not wanting the clatter of horses to give warning. They drew long swords but held them tight to their legs to minimize their glint in the night. Cloaked and hooded, they moved toward Honoria's palace like wraiths; Ravenna's streets dark, its canals gleaming dully, and a halfmoon teasing behind a moving veil of cloud. As a town of government instead of commerce, the capital always seemed desultory and half deserted.

The emperor's face startled sentries.

"Caesar! We didn't expect -- "

"Get out of the way."

Honoria's palace was quiet, the tapestries and curtains bleached of color by the night and the oil lamps guttering ...

The Scourge of God. Copyright © by William Dietrich. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2005

    Wonderful historical account

    Focusing on the journey of Jonas, a young man who is trying to prove himself as a valuable Roman, the plot follows him as he acts as the historian for an embassy of ambassadors that travel to meet Attila the Hun in hopes of peace. He soon finds himself in a different world all together. Dietrich accomplished a masterful work as he carries Jonas through a wonderfully compelling plot. He has created very realistic characters and has done a wonderful job at describing the Huns and everything about them: lifestyle, dress, language, mannerisms. If you have any interest in Rome, Huns or simply the time period, I highly recommend this book as an excellent read!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2005

    Great Adventure Tale

    This is a rare fictional foray into life among the Huns of ancient times. There isn't much known about these people, since they left no written records and few artifacts. However, the author does the best job possible, given the limited resources, in reconstructing this nomad people's world and ways. The result is a great tale that moves from Constantinople across Europe to a final battle between Romans and Huns in what is now France. The story makes abundantly clear what was at stake in the conflict between a world of culture, learning, and burgeoning Christianity and the brutal, repressive, world of the Huns (though environmentalists will appreciate the fact that they used natural resources with admirable economy). At the heart of the story - and apparently crucial in saving civilization from the barbarians - is an unlikely group consisting of a young Roman scribe, a beautiful slave girl, a dwarf and his practical wife. Likable characters and lots of action make this a very readable book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2012

    Good Read

    This book had a slow start, but the pick-up timing was excellent. The mechanics were excellent. I found one glaring grammatical error. Other readers have reviewed the plot. No need for my doing so.
    A young Roman diplomat, a beautiful Roman girl, a dwarf and the dwarf's fully grown wife are on a secret mission to infiltrate Attila's palace and kill him. The group did not exactly blend into any populace.
    In the final battle scene, there were so many soldiers that fellow soldiers got in each other's way.
    Jonas, both diplomat and soldier, out thought every other character, often in surprising ways.
    I recommend this book for the history and the fiction that prevents the history from being boring. I applaud the author for his research and his weaving together history and fiction.
    Exceptional work.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2012

    The auther

    Its great. I like six pages but seven pages is still better. You forgot to uppercase names and Is. Read my story , The Golden Cat, at golden girl results two to seven. Skip result five because no story is there. No rude comments. Say what i should do better instead. Ask questions at qu second result and ill answer it in qu result four. No advertizing without a review for my story. I like your story because you have awesome detail and words! Keep the awesome work up! Please read my story too. The auther Ps. Its just the auther and not thee auther. I spell it er and not or to make my name unique. Bye!

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2012

    Scourge chroncles

    Scourge gave a gasp as air raced back into his lungs. The gasp of the dead returning to life. Scourge looked around the landscape. A blankt of snow covered most of the land. It was breathtakes and beautiful. There were fat plump snow rabbits drinking out of a near frozen river. When Scourge saw them it reminded him of his thirst and hunger pangs. He shakely sat up and saw a gang of brutel cats walking toward him. He hisses and ducks down. But the attempt to hide him se was in vain. The cat knew he was there. They padded closer and closer. Scourge suddently reared up sissing and swiping his paws catching one of them on top of the head. The cat he hit when out like a sack of mouses. The oter cats hissed in fear all together sounding like a giant adder. "SCOURGES GHOST HAS COME BACK" one of the cats yowled " WE MUST-ACCCKKK" thats when the leader a she-cat with a orange pelt and green eyes rammed her paw at his wind pipe. " you fool!!" She hissed " this isnt the real scourge. He died moons ago!! If this is scourges ghost then i will see if i can kill h-" thats when scoure hit her oin the wind pipe. " are you two going to bicker all day or explain what happening?" The she-cat suddenly lunged at scourge claws unsheathed ready for te death-blow. Scourge may be hungry and thirstybut his reflexes were still razor sharp. He spun the the side un sheathing his own claws the she-cats group started to growl and move around him. Scourge closed his eyes feeling adeldrene run through his veins. Suddenly he felt calm and vollected. Every this seemed slow and all the facts became clear: there were 23 cats each one well fed and eagerly trained. They all lunged at him at the same time but to scourge they seemed slow and weak. He opened his eyes and went through a patten of fighting. His claws sliced 22 times the blows were all solid and not at all super ficail. His hindpaws seemed to dance as he moved swiftly through the snow. His claws driped vivid red. Blood, his timeing amd strikes perfect. He ended his moves with a calm ready stance with both paws planted on the snow 22 cats droped dead. Blood stained the blank white snow. The orange-pelted she cat stood solitary in the feild of bodys. Her eyes full of shock. " one...could have done... that unless...they were......scou- " suddently he lunged at her claws out. The she cat screeched in fear and tried to rear away afraid of her own death. Scourge was to quick his claws raked down her pelt. Te she cat howled inpain. And reared up to smack scourge. Scourge ducked under her blow and shot up slaming his head agients her jaw. Scourge heared a solid smack. And the she cat rolled over our cold. Her chest rised up and down faintly. Scorge let her live. Then scourge......

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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