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From Barnes & NobleMagic in a Turbulent Past
A prodigious and sprawling novel from a powerful new voice in the alternate history/fantasy subgenre, Thomas Harlan's The Gate of Fire, Book Two in the Oath of Empire series, is as rife with political intrigue and magic as its highly impressive predecessor, The Shadow of Ararat. This sweeping new epic will leave readers awestruck at the sheer abundance of nefarious schemes, grandiose battles, and surprising plot twists to be found within its pages. Harlan presents the reader with several engaging, historically familiar elements that are soon cultivated in the breadth of his imagination. Here we have numerous political complexities, hundreds of characters, and a tense milieu that grows ever tauter until the world itself lies on the brink of annihilation. Harlan draws his readers deep into his alternate worlds; his narrative voice continues to sharpen and his skill at providing a highly innovative but authentic tapestry develops even further.
Here's a little background: At the beginning of the seventh century, the vast Roman Empire hasn't fallen or converted to Christianity. Rome is divided in two, with the East ruled by Augustus Heraclius and the West governed by Augustus Galen Atreus. When Chroseos II, the shah of Persia, leads an army against Rome, Heraclius and Galen establish a truce and join forces. Together they march upon Constantinople, where their ranks are infiltrated by spies, traitors, and other hidden enemies.
In this world, magic works; Maxian Atreus, Galen's youngest brother and a healer, is hard-pressed to battle sorcery and a curse set upon the empire; this curse protects Rome from various magics but also impedes its industrial progress. Maxian, along with sorcerer Dwyrin tackle, engage in a vast and dangerous undertaking that, if successful, will resurrect the greatest emperors of all: Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. Meanwhile, in Persia, Galen and Heraclius must contend with the hellish armies of the disguised demon Dahak, a foe whom Dwyrin faced before and barely escaped. Dahak, in hiding, licks its wounds, while Maxian and Dwyrin ready themselves for further political strife. Queen Zoe of Palmyra seeks revenge upon the prince of Rome, while the exiled Mohammed, in Mecca, has a powerful mystical vision that shows him how he must soon become a key player in the war between good and evil.
Thomas Harlan has entered the alternate history realm full blast with an incredibly well-researched novel of challenging complexity; The Gate of Fire is packed with savory imagery and poignant story threads that wind together against a detailed backdrop of magic and war. Real historical figures and events propel the story line at a savage rate. Harlan piles skirmishes and incidents one upon the other, threading them together to weave a powerful tale of intrigue that is both fantastical and real. The huge cast calls for a dramatis personae (at the front of the book), as viewpoints rapidly switch from person to person, country to country, peasant to soldier, scholar to nobleman.
In The Gate of Fire, characters come alive in an ancient world with queens, devils, and prophets galore. Harlan's staggering and immense imagination has extrapolated historical facts and fused them to exciting and compelling scenes of arcane carnage. His ability to keep the action taut while dealing with so many separate stories and events is incredible in its own right; not only does the novel deal with the Roman and Persian empires but also involves the Celts and Egyptians, an element that further illuminates the narrative. Like Shadow of Ararat, The Gate of Fire earns high marks; it's alternative history/fantasy that will stand out for years to come.