“The Sword of Attila: A Novel of the Last Years of Rome” by Michael Curtis Ford. (MacMillan: 432 pages).
I have been trying to decide what to say about this book. I came across it a few weeks ago when browsing through historical novels on Rome. Apparently Michael Curtis Ford has written many historical novels on Rome, and I wanted to start with one of his earlier books.
On one hand, I enjoyed the book. It helped me learn more about an era that I know very little about. Most of the exposure we get to Rome has to do with its heyday, which is about the time of Christ or maybe a few centuries after. This one is set in the 5th century A.D. after Rome has been divided into the Eastern and Western Empires. I knew of Attila the Hun, but probably not much more than the typical idea that Attila was a bad guy. (Actually, that’s a matter of conjecture, and really depends on how you view Rome.) I did know that Attila had grown up in Rome and had many connections with Rome. But the relationship he had with Flavius Aetius, Supreme General of the Legions (also known as the Last of the Romans) was new to me, and made for an interesting story.
On the other hand, the book was not as well written as other historical books I have read recently, most notably the books on the American Civil War by Ralph Peters. Peters adds a level of detail and credibility that Ford doesn’t include, much of that I am sure by the simple fact that we know a lot more about the era of the Civil War than we know about Rome. There’s not a specific example that I can point to demonstrate that Ford’s writing is lacking, but it just doesn’t impact me the way that Peters’ writing does.
Maybe that’s not a fair comparison, and to repeat myself, I did have a good time reading the book. What made it fun for me is knowing this was a crucial time in earth’s history, leading up to a tremendous battle between the two biggest armies up to that time, and not knowing who won. I will not spoil it for you by telling you, but it was fun. Some of it was a little melodramatic, like the climax, but still fun.
I give The Sword of Attila four stars (out of five).