It is AD 312. Rome teeters on the brink of war. Constantine’s army is on the move. On the Rhine frontier, Brandulf Rex, a pagan Germanic barbarian, joins the Roman army as a spy and special forces operative. Down in Rome, Junia Flavia, the lovely and pious daughter of a nominally Christian senator, finds herself embroiled in anti-Christian politics as she works on behalf of the church.
As armies converge and forces beyond Rex’s and Flavia’s controls threaten to destroy everything they have worked for, these two people from different worlds will have to work together to bring down the evil Emperor Maxentius. But his villainous plans and devious henchmen are not easily overcome. Will the barbarian warrior and the senator’s daughter live to see the Empire bow the knee to Christ? Or will their part in the story of Constantine’s rise meet an untimely and brutal end?
Um. So. Where to start with this?
Right up, I’ll tell you that I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review, and when it came in the mail I was so hyped. First off, I usually love stuff set in ancient Rome (or really any ancient country/time) and the book was a thick hardcover which basically never happens.
Unfortunately, I didn’t love The Conqueror as much as I wanted to.
I read at least one review on Goodreads that said The Conqueror was boring and slow-paced and I’m like “whaaaat?” because it held my attention very well almost all the way through (there were a few parts that were a little boring, but that’s just to be expected in a book of this length). You’ve got political intrigue, life-or-death escapades, a romance that kind of sucks you in (more on that in a bit)…The Conqueror is not boring, people!
Rex and Flavia were both good characters, though they did annoy me at times (again, more on that in a bit). I didn’t expect to get invested in their romance, but I did. Enough to make me interested in reading the sequel (no specific spoilers, but their relationship ends in a surprisingly hopeless/tragic place at the end of this book–the sequel had better rectify that). They are characters worth following. ❤
Not the cleanest Christian book I’ve ever read (for instance, it features the attempted rape of a thirteen year old girl). Wouldn’t recommend to anyone younger than eighteen.
Also, in the preface the author said that he was going to use the word ‘catholic’ (small ‘c’) to describe the early church, not to show denomination but more for the word’s meaning (‘universal’, ‘all-embracing’). I was like, “Okay, whatever” (though I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a universal church either). But then the author made the early church be very Catholic (capital ‘C’) anyway–at least in my opinion. There were nuns, bishops, talk of relics, the characters made the sign of the cross, and so on. And there were also conflicting messages about whether or not baptism was an essential part of soul salvation. (Another reason I wouldn’t recommend this book to someone younger, as the theology is unclear.)
There was a lot of emphasis put on Flavia and Rex’s outer appearance. Such as: He was standing in a shaft of light from a high window, as if the sun were trying to spotlight this perfect icon of masculinity. Or: She flashed him a shy smile, and Rex decided he liked the dark red color of her lips. Though it wasn’t sultry or brazen, it was exotic enough to catch the eye–and sensual enough to make a man think of more.
Also, I don’t totally buy that Rex would abandon his mission to save a girl he saw for a couple moments on the street. In some ways, it’s believable, but in other ways it’s not. I guess you’ll just have to decide, should you read the book!
Overall, The Conqueror is an interesting, fast-paced piece of historical fiction with sympathetic characters. Issues aside, if you’re a fan of novels set in ancient Rome and/or adventure stories, you might want to give it a try!
I find the 1st-4th centuries fascinating, but it seems difficult to get good reading material from/about that period. I thought Ben-Hur was good, but hadn’t the patience to finish First Light by the Thoenes.
The small-c-catholicism seems mostly accurate (not too early for a little bit of nuns and relics, but I’m not entirely sure about the sign of the cross). I think I would also be annoyed by heavy physical description, but I’d like to give this book a try.
Yeah, you should try it! Have you read any of Rosemary Sutcliff’s books? They aren’t Christian (and some of them are very inappropriate I’ve heard), but a lot of them are great looks at life in ancient Rome (and sometimes Britain). I’d recommend The Eagle of the Ninth and The Silver Branch for starters.
Yes, I read and enjoyed The Eagle of the Ninth! But I haven’t yet read The Silver Branch.
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Well, being Catholic, I must say I’m intrigued 😉 (although I would have to read the book to give you my thoughts on whether his depiction of the early church was historically accurate or not)
“this perfect icon of masculinity” okay WHAT xD
I don’t know if it would be your cup of tea. 😉 (See: the quote you just freaked out at.) 😀 But yeah, if you ever did I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the religious aspect and the book/characters in general.
Yeahhhhhhhhhhh … maybe I should just give it a miss. 😉
From what you mentioned, the only thing that stood out to me as potentially historically inaccurate would be nuns. Consecrated virgins were definitely A Thing in the 300s, but convents or monasteries full of monks or nuns were not. They wouldn’t call them “nuns” yet, either. All that came about in the 500s with Benedict of Nursia and his twin sister Scholastica (whom I’m lowkey obsessed with so yeah 😉 )
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Some thoughts from my perspective. At that point in time the only Christian church was the Catholic Church so the rituals, etc. would reflect that. Also, as the Apostles Creed (Ambrose c. AD 390) says, “the holy catholic church,” lower case, now used to reflect the Church Universal–all believers scattered through all denominations. At least that is the way I was taught to understand it and why protestant churches use the Apostles Creed as well as the Catholic Church.
Interesting! I haven’t done much (any? :D) research from that time period myself.
Great review, Eva-Joy! thanks!
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