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Island of Ghosts    by Gillian Bradshaw order for
Island of Ghosts
by Gillian Bradshaw
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Tor, 1999 (1998)
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* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

In the second century A.D., the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, (you may remember seeing him in his old age in the movie Gladiator), was on the verge of defeating the Sarmatians, a fierce barbarian nation which had been raiding Roman territory on the other side of the Danube. For obscure reasons, he offered to stop the fighting if they would agree to provide the Roman army with eight thousand horsemen.

This is the story of Ariantes, a Sarmatian nobleman leading a Dragon of five hundred armoured cavalry, one of three making the long march from the Danube to Roman Britain. They were to be stationed on Hadrian's Wall, built across the narrowest part of the island as a protection for the civilized South from the wild Picts of the North.

Ariantes, unlike his proud and arrogant fellow nobles, has accepted his fate, and intends to honour his oath to the Romans as best he can. They accuse him of Romanizing, betraying the honour of the Sarmatians. His life is made even more difficult by an embittered Roman centurion, whose son was killed in the Danube fighting, and by Bodica, the British wife of the legate in charge of the Sarmatians, who is plotting rebellion with the outlawed order of Druids. Ariantes falls in love with Pervica, a British widow who found and nursed him after his attempted murder by Bodica, and is helped by a Christian slave, Eukarios.

All of Bradshaw's historical novels are well researched, and full of controlled energy. This is no exception. It particularly reminds me of another of my favourite authors, Rosemary Sutcliffe, with its detailed observation of the clash of cultures in Roman Britain. My only criticism, and it is a very small one, is that the hero, Ariantes, becomes a little too civilized a little too quickly for a scalp-taking barbarian.

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