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    THE STORM OF HEAVEN by Thomas Harlan (see his website)


    TOR, June 2001

    The victory of the united Eastern and Western Roman Empires against their ancient Persian enemy has been washed away by incompetence in the east and Prince Maxim's weakening of the Oath of Empire in the west (see our reviews of THE SHADOW OF ARARAT and THE GATE OF FIRE for a discussion of these earlier events). Now, the Eastern Emperor lies critically ill and his wife and brother battle for control while a revitalized Persia and the desert tribes led by Mohammed threaten to bring the attack all the way to Constantinople.

    The focus of this third novel in the series has shifted from Prince Maxim of the Western Empire to his revived helpers, Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, as well as Zoe of Palmyra and her wizard friend/enemy, Dwyrin, as well as the memory-lost Diana/Thyatis. Caesar and Alexander continually plot and scheme to help Maxim, but without any particular concern for the ethical issues that wrack the prince. Maxim, his brother the Emperor Galen, the Eastern Emperor Theodore, and Galen's spy-mistress Anastasia all seem paralized over guilt, grief, or hopelessness as the forces of evil slowly grind away at the ancient Roman Empire.

    In this alternate history version of the Roman Empire, magic works, the Christian religion never flourished, and a powerful oath holds Rome together, but at terrible cost. The oath holds Rome in a strange form of stasis, brutally destroying anything that it sees as a threat to Rome. As Maxim had noted, any progress or technological advance can be seen as a threat to the oath. Yet Maxim has weakened the oath, only to see destruction rather than a gale of creativity. With both Rome and Persia his enemies, Maxim's friends have their jobs cut out for them.

    Although THE STORM OF HEAVEN lacks some of the power of the earlier novels, author Thomas Harlan (see more reviews of novels by this author) has smoothed out his writing, making the frequent scene changes less jarring as the reader flits from Rome to Constantinople to Jerusalem to Egypt. The powerful image of the ancient priests striking his rocks together to create the fire that lights the world is present only in Dwyrin's mind, yet it holds promise for the next volume in this series.

    I am giving this novel Four Stars both because of its own merit, and because the series as a whole has held up well. THE OATH OF EMPIRE has haunted me over the year I've been reading it. If you haven't discovered it yet, and you're a fantasy or alternate history fan, you're in for a treat.

    Four Stars

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