Review of THE DARK LORD by Thomas Harlan
BOOK FOUR OF THE OATH OF EMPIRE
TOR, July 2002
Constantanople has fallen and the armies of Persia stand ready to conquer the western Empire as well. In Rome, chaos has taken control. The Emperor Galen tries to rally his troops while his spies conspire among themselves, his wife gets petty and paranoid, his brother Maxim whines for new magical toys, and the ancient and now undead Julius Caesar tries to decide whether his master would be better served by allowing Galen to remain in control, or to toss him out.
The Persian armies, together with Greek troops who rebelled against deceitful Constantinople, and Arabs who continue to fight for their lost Mohammed, are buttressed by magic--and have their own undead forces to bear. When the Persians take a detour to Egypt (chasing the McGuffin of a magical viewer), Rome has time to prepare--but fails to use it. Meanwhile, Mohammed lies near death and receives enlightenment. The past mistakes he has made become clear to him as he lies beneath a fig tree.
Author Thomas Harlan (see all BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by this author) has created a powerful and thoughtful alternate universe where Christianity never took hold and where Rome is strengthened by an ancient oath that holds the nation together--at a terrible cost of lost creativity. The Oath was the central issue in earlier volumes in the series, but by now, it has become secondary--just another source of power for the nearly omnipotent Maxim.
In the earlier volumes, a number of characters were interesting and multidimensional even when Maxim became obsessed with his magic to the detriment of those around him. By this volume, most are simplified down to two dimensions. Of the many characters, only Galen and Aurelian seem to have any nobility about them at all (Mohammed might, but he spends the book under a fig tree so this hardly counts). Maxim is critically lazy in allowing others to do his dirty work of seizing the empire (if this is what he wants) or criminally negligent in allowing Julius Caesar to plot against his brother if it isn't what he wants.
Harlan writes fast-paced action and THE DARK LORD is no exception. Fans of the series will want to read this conclusion to the series and see the new world that results from Maxim's assumption of power and his final confrontation with the Dark Lord. Perhaps some fans will join me in hoping that Mohammed and some of the others show up in a surprise book 5 and overthrow the nasty magic-driven world that is created at the end of THE DARK LORD.
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