Hadrian's Wall: A Novel

Hadrian's Wall: A Novel

by William Dietrich

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061744808
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/13/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 270,483
File size: 851 KB

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

Hadrian's Wall

By Dietrich, William


ISBN: 0060563729

Chapter One

No one knows better than I just how big our empire is.

My bones ache from its immensity.

I, Draco, am frontiersman and bureaucrat, inspector and scribe. Men fear me for what I represent, the long reach of Rome. I have the ear of emperors. I make and break careers. I wear this power like armor because it's the only protection I have when making my unloved appearances and blunt reports. I carry no weapon but authority.

The cost of this power is exhaustion. When I was young, traveling Rome's borders to recommend a strengthened garrison here, a tax office there, my job seemed glamorous. It showed me the world. But I've walked, ridden, barged, and sailed for twenty thousand miles, and now I am old and weary, sent finally to this farthest place, my joints sore from its chill.

I have been ordered to northern Britannia to answer a mystery. A report on revolt and invasion, yes, but that is not all of it. I read again the dispatch ordering my mission, sensing the bafflement behind it. A senator's daughter, lost to the wilderness. Valeria, her name is, beautiful by all accounts, willful, adventuresome, discontented, the spark that ignited blood and fire.


The northern skies outside my window in the grim legionary fortress of Eburacum are gray and blank, offering nothing. I snap at my slave to add more charcoal to the brazier. How I miss the sun!

The tone of the plea I've receivedfrom the patrician Valens has more of the petulance and self-pity of the endangered politician than it does the heartbreak and guilt of the bereaved father. He is one of the two thousand senators who burden today's Rome, clinging to an office that provides more opportunities for greed than power. Still, a senator cannot be ignored. I read again.

I wish for a public report on the recent barbarian invasion and a confidential addendum on the disappearance of my daughter. Rumors of her choice have strained relations with my Flavian in-laws and interrupted the financial partnership necessary to sustain my office. It is important that Valeria's reputation be restored so that her family can make claim to rightful estate. I trust you understand the delicacy of your mission and the need for discretion.

Retirement should have come long ago, but I am a useful kind of man, loyal not to a ruler so much as the idea of Rule. Loyal to stability. Longevity. That means I persist through each change of emperor, each switch of state religion, each reorganization of the provinces. I'm also kept as far away as possible, out on the borders. An idealist can be usefully employed but never completely trusted.

I am here to interrogate survivors, which means I try to find some truth in the web of lies, self-deception, and wishful thinking that makes up human memory. Many of the best witnesses are dead, and the rest are divided and confused by what happened. They carry in their mood the stink of Hadrian's Wall, the smell of burned timbers, unburied flesh, and abandoned food pots that churn with squirming maggots. The flies come by day and the wild dogs by night, driven off by the desultory crew of sullen slaves, crippled soldiers, and pressed Briton laborers working to repair the damage. It is the stink of victory that in truth is a kind of defeat, of stability replaced by uncertainty.

How soon before the barbarians come back again, perhaps for good?

That too, the emperor and Senate want to know.

I have made a list of informants to interview. The handmaiden. The cook. The villa owner. The captured druid. But I start with a soldier, direct and blunt.

The centurion on the field litter before me is named Longinus: a good record, his foot crushed by a battle-ax in the desperate fighting, his eyes dark with sleepless pain and the knowledge he will never walk again. Still, he has glory I can only envy. I question him.

"Do you know who I am?"

"An imperial inspector."

"You understand my purpose?"

"To do the bidding of emperor and Senate."

"Yes. And yours?"

"I'm a man of duty. It's all I've ever been."

"So you will answer any question?"

"When there's an answer I can give." Crisp, unhesitating, to the point. A Roman.

"Good. Now, you knew the senior tribune Galba Brassidias?"

"Of course."

"When he was promoted?"

"I brought the news to him."

"And when was that?"

"The autumn of two years ago."

"You were a courier?"

Longinus is no simple soldier. He understands I'm surprised that a ranking centurion had been assigned the mission of riding the post. "The news was delicate. Duke Fullofaudes, the commander of northern Britannia, sent me because I'd campaigned with Galba and knew him as well as any man could know him. A hard man, but a good soldier. Galba, I mean."

"What do you mean, 'a hard man'?"

"Cavalry. Not the kind to have at banquet. Not a conversationalist. He was a provincial from Thrace who lacked refinement, a superb horseman but never schooled. Solid but grim. The best kind to have on your right side in battle."

"Of course." As if I truly know. "And he took the news well?"

Longinus gave a pained smile, remembering.


"None of this will make sense to you unless you've served on the Wall."

It is a careful insult, an attempt to pretend at a vast difference between civilian and soldier. As if a breastplate changes the human heart!

"I have spent my whole life on the Wall," I growl, giving him a sense of the power behind me. "Rome's wall, from Arabia Petraea to your dunghill here. I have traded insults with the arrogant warriors of Sarmatia and sifted rumors of the distant hun. I have smelled the stink of Berber camels and eaten with sentries on the cold palisades of the Rhine, counting the fires of the Germans across the river. Do not think you have to tell me about the Wall." Continues...

Excerpted from Hadrian's Wall by Dietrich, William Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This

Michael Curtis Ford

A gripping and literate work that will haunt you long after you've put it down.
—(Michael Curtis Ford, author of The Ten Thousand and Gods and Legions)

Reading Group Guide


For three centuries, the stone barrier we know as Hadrian's Wall shielded Roman Britain from the unconquered barbarians of the island's northern highlands. But when Valeria, a senator's daughter, is sent to the Wall for an arranged marriage to an aristocratic officer in 367 A.D., her journey unleashes jealousy, passion, and epic war. Valeria's new husband, Marcus, has supplanted the brutally efficient veteran soldier Galba as commander of the famed Petriana cavalry. Yet Galba insists on escorting the bride-to-be on her journey to the Wall.

Is he submitting to duty? Or plotting revenge? And what is the mysterious past of the handsome barbarian chieftain Arden Caratacus, who springs from ambush and who seems to know so much of hated Rome? As sharp as the edge of a spatha sword and as piercing as a Celtic arrow, Hadrian's Wall evokes a lost world of Roman ideals and barbaric romanticism.

Topics for Discussion

  1. Why does the author choose to tell the story through the interviews of Draco and develop his relationship with the slave, Savia? What does this add to the story?
  2. We know now that Christianity eventually won, but it must have seemed unlikely at first. What was it about the story of a crucified Jew that was so effective in a world used to multiple gods and deified emperors?
  3. What parallels do you see between a Roman Empire trying to sustain its boundaries and the United States of today?

About the Author

William Dietrich is a novelist, Pulitzer-winning journalist, historian and naturalist who lives on an island in Washington State.

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Hadrian's Wall 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read many historical fiction novels and am a HUGE Roman history fan, especially Roman Britain and Hadrian's Wall. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed with the heavy romance angle that the book took on. Not enough history, battles and too much mushy stuff. It's ok, though. If you want GREAT historical fiction, read The Camulod Chronicles by Jack Whyte. The best books I have EVER read! Whyte tells his own version of the Arthur legend & starts off in Roman Britain ca. AD 376 (I think). Whyte tells the legend wuthout all the sorcery & fairytale mess & intertwines the story with real events. His version shows just how the legend could have happened. YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was fooled by the cover and endorsements on the jacket. I was expecting Roman Legions battling it out with barbarians. There is one great battle at the end, but this is really a romance novel set in 375 AD Britain. Tribune Galba Brassidius expects to be the new commander of the Petriana cavalry at the Hadrian Wall fort Petrianais, but he is supplanted by an inexperienced Praefectus, Marcus Flavius, from Rome. Marcus has obtained the post through a financial arrangement with a Roman senator. In exchange for money, Marcus gets the new posting and the hand of the senator's daughter, Valeria. This arrangement gives him the prestige of a senatorial connection, and a field command to further his career. An irate Galba has his own agenda. He has been dealing on both sides of Hadrian's Wall, and he enlists the aide of a Celtic Chieftain, Arden Caratacus, to kidnap Valeria. Galba hopes to incite war between the Celts and Romans and get Marius killed, take his wife, and in the process, become a hero. A naive Valeria loathes Galba's crude advances, is puzzled by her husband's indifference, ignores the worship of young tribune Clodius, and struggles with her growing feelings for the young Celt, Arden. Valeria also ignores the advice of her wise slave Savia. Much of the story is related in the aftermath by Roman investigator Draco, who is trying to piece together the cause of the catastrophe.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Over two centuries old Hadrian¿s Wall was built to keep the feral Celtic tribes away from easy attacks on the Roman fortresses. However, the Roman Empire seems weaker than ever to the Celtics, especially Chieftain Arden Caratacus, who wants the invaders off the island. His enemy amoral brilliant tactician Senior Tribune Galba Brassidias understands the Wall and the people on both sides of it as he leads the deadly Petriana cavalry in keeping the Celts at bay................................ Feeling he earned the position, Galba expects his success and his loyalty will have Rome name him in charge. Instead he learns that an island born Roman citizen is beneath those born in Rome for an aristocratic scholar Marcus Flavius arrives to take charge of the Petriana. Marcus is accompanied by the even more blue-blooded fiancée to Lady Valeria. Knowing that he is a victim of prejudice, an angry Galba pretends loyalty to his new Commander while encouraging Arden to attack. Marcus is a helpless warrior. Only Valeria, who has fallen in love with the dynamic Arden, might stop a bloody war................................. The story is actually told in flashback form by a Roman investigation into what happened at the Wall in 368 AD. That technique not only adds to the sense of history that readers will feel, but sounds so eerily close to how western nations look back at scandal and traumatic events. The story line is action packed and the audience will feel they are trudging alongside Inspector Draco as he makes inquiries. The prime foursome seems genuine especially in their interactions; they and the support cast furbish readers with a powerful Ancient Rome tale that will elate historical novel readers...................... Harriet Klausner
wisewoman32 on LibraryThing 28 days ago
Surprisingly well written, fascinating story. A glimpse into England and the Celtic-pagan world of 350AD. Wonderful.
Othniel on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I wish I could have enjoyed this book more. Dietrich treats the era well, and the idea of the Wall is relevant to our times, reminding one of the Berlin Wall and of the current American debate over the Fence on the Mexican Border.As a Texan, and as a fan of Historical Fiction, I expected more about a collision of peoples and ideas and less of a romance novel.Nevertheless, all characters were treated fairly and the plot was well developed. I will read more of Dietrich's work, but I do hope he gives up as a romance writer.
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Exciting! Great plot! A Romance that Women will enjoy as well as men! Highly recommend!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
If you like historical fiction, expessially Ancient roman times, then you will need to read this book. It is wonderfully written and easy and fun to read. I did not stop reading this book once I started. In the book you will enjoy reading about the Roman empire and the glory of the northern barbarians in one book. It is a very good book I think. It is one of the best books I read, I will proboly read it again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago