Book Reviews

the conqueror by Bryan Litfin

The Conqueror (Constantine’s Empire Book #1) (Constantine's Empire) by [Bryan Litfin]

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?

Travel back to one of the most pivotal eras in history–a time when devotion to the pagan gods was fading and the Roman Empire was being conquered by the sign of the cross.

I chose this book to review because my family was studying Ancient Rome, and it’s always fun to learn along with them . . . and I had already read a LOT of the books we owned on this time period. I mean . . . I AM six years older than my next-youngest sister, and there’s a twenty year age gap between myself and my youngest sibling. So I’ve been through this time period a few times, to say the least :D

Anywhoo. I really, REALLY wanted to like this book. I really wanted to give it a good review – at least something higher than two stars. Really.

But . . . no. Just no.

As a disclaimer, I’ll admit I’m only roughly halfway through this one. It *might* get better. Maybe. I’ll also say that the books I grew up reading on Ancient Rome may have influenced me on this one. I mean, I grew up with the good, solid authors like G. A. Henty and Genevieve Foster and other ones that I can’t quite remember at this time. Authors who used the antiquated, English language, that I love so much.

To get back to this book — I just can’t give it any higher than two stars for so many reasons.

I’m going to start with what was good about it: the history was amazing. I did learn a lot about Rome and it’s customs and the coming fall of that great and mighty nation. That period of Roman history where there were four sections and so many different rulers vying for power have always made my head spin, but I’m thinking I can grasp that part a bit better now. And the fact that the history is so good makes perfect sense — Bryan Litfin is an historian, and you can tell. But the story isn’t bogged down with a bunch of facts — it does keep moving.

But I really didn’t like the overall storyline. Or the characters. Or the portrayal of Christianity. Or the relationships.

Let me explain, section by section.

:::THE CHARACTERS:::

To me, the characters were just extremely unbelievable. From what I have studied about ancient culture, there’s no way the characters would have acted the way they did. They took liberties that would never have been an option (soldier guy and rich girl, alone in the woods, running from other soldiers. Nothing happens, but still . . . major no-no for the time period!), they spoke in ways and phrased their thoughts in ways that were way too modern, and Flavia was way too forward for the affluent family she was supposed to come from. And Rex . . . while he was my favourite of the two, I never did really connect with either of them. And if Rex had acted the way he did, in ancient times that soldier would have been discharged at best, and put to death at worst. Going against your commanders orders — insubordination — would have had serious consequences.

The portrayal of the political turmoil was accurate, though, and I did enjoy that. I think the turbulence translated well into the story.

I found inconsistencies in the characters — in Flavia most of all. Here’s this good Christian girl who doesn’t even bat an eyelash at facing death in the coliseum, along comes this guy and sweeps her off her feet, and this virtuous girl is suddenly overcome by lust. Which, I suppose, could happen, but not in the way this takes place. But the fact that this virtuous, Christian girl is even remotely attracted to a guy who is a professed idol worshiper is interesting.

:::THE STORYLINE:::

For me, personally, I found this to be way too out there. I mean, I suppose parts of this could have happened. But other parts could have been part of a fantasy novel.

I just don’t know too many people who could successfully fake their own death and go to work in the palace in the city they once lived in. And Flavia was from a wealthy family that held a lot of weight — in her own city, where she grew up, I’m not sure how no one recognized her as she went about in the market.

And I don’t know too many people who would even try to jump a horse off a cliff while they were being pursued, land in a lake, and survive.

Keep in mind that I am a very practical girl, and this just didn’t seem plausible to me. Maybe this is a personal thing . . . it’s also one reason I’m not big into the fantasy genre. But a historical novel should be believable, right? At least, I think so.

:::CHRISTIANITY:::

This is one area I had a big issue with. The author explains in the forward that the Christianity he writes about looks different from today’s modern evangelical Christianity. I knew that, I expected it, and I appreciated him putting that note in there.

But what was written about was more along the lines of Catholicism than Christianity.

The Christians ate with the dead apostles, had a lot of things that were reminiscent of the relics of Catholicism, and there was a lot of chanting and such, as well as prayers to dead saints. I understand that there would have been a leaning towards traditions of men, but this was totally different than anything I had read about this time period.

:::RELATIONSHIPS:::

Now, keep in mind this was a book about Rome — there were mentions of immoral things that would have happened. There were a couple of scenes I skipped, so I couldn’t tell you for sure what happened. I do think that some of those issues and the goriness of a few of the scenes could have been a bit more tasteful . . . and goriness doesn’t usually bother me. But I knew that an accurate portrayal of Rome would have to contain some of this, and I didn’t rate the story based on this. Not really.

The relationship between Flavia and Rex moved really quickly — like, 24 hours quickly — and it was all based on pure emotions. Yes, he saved her. Because he thought she looked cute running from the gladiators. He *did* feel pity when they mistreated her, but his first thought was how she looked. Not necessarily a bad thing, but not enough to base what happened from his encounter on the road with her.

Based on his attraction to her, he rescues her from the lion, they run out of the city, run from the soldiers who still want Flavia dead for political reasons, and he protects her. And she is willing to entertain romantic thoughts about him even though she is a Christian and he is a a worshiper of idols.

Overall, I just didn’t find this very realistic or to my liking. Maybe someone else would have enjoyed it more. I am thankful to Revell for providing a review copy for me to read!

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I am a 23 year old young lady who is redeemed and saved from my sin only by the grace of God. A bibliophile at heart with a love of history who desires to see the Word of God practically applied to all aspects of our daily lives -- in our homes, in the grocery store, in the political realm. I strive to put my jumbled, chaotic thoughts down onto paper -- reducing them into black and white rows, letters, sentences. Into some semblance of sanity. And I share them here with all of you, where I can challenge you, make you think, and cause you to ask questions. I am the oldest of eleven children living the country life in the deep south.

One Comment

  • Ryana Lynn

    Wow, what a ride! I’ll admit I’ve not read much on the period and even I spotted major problems in this story. And no one is cute running for their life, just saying, Mr. Creepy! XP

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