The Scourge of God

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

To apprentice scholar Jonas Alabanda, the offer to go along on a diplomatic mission to the Huns seems heaven-sent. It carries the lure of adventure, a chance to use his academic training in history and languages, and perhaps a career boost into the Empire's service. As his father reminds him, it is also a chance to repair the family fortunes.

He could not have been more wrong. The mission was doomed from the beginning, both by the Byzantine fondness for intrigue and by Attila's sheer rapacity. Jonas is trapped in the Hun camp as a hostage, his only allies Honoria, a captive Roman maiden and Zerco, a perceptive dwarf.

When at length he manages to escape, it is with the sword of Mars, an ancient artifact that Attila believes—maybe—gives him supernatural power. Across the plains of central Europe, into the Alps, Jonas flees, to finally bring the sword to Aetius, the one Roman commander able to lead an effective defense. Attila's horde is never far behind the young Roman, who changes from a naive scholar into a wary warrior in the course of his flight. The climactic battle of Chalons, which turns Attila back, is bloodier than almost anything fiction could imagine.

William Dietrich has done a masterful job of interweaving historical fact with character insight and cultural details. Most of Hun culture has to be extrapolated from scanty archaeological data, as the Huns had no written language and left few artifacts of stone or metal. The story told is a gripping one, if exceptionally violent. But then, this was a violent era. In spite of the so-called Dark Ages which followed, the author reminds readers that much more of civilization would have been lost, had Attila's horde succeeded. The Scourge of God is fascinating for both the history buff and the reader looking for non- stop adventure.