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Historical novels from Marie Heese and Ross Laidlaw

June 30, 2012
Sycamore gap on Hadrian's Wall

Sycamore gap on Hadrian’s Wall

I have just returned from walking Hadrian’s Wall – which I highly recommend – during which I decided to read some Roman historical fiction, and I thought I would share these books with you.

by Tom Sawford

I came across Ross Laidlaw first for his book Attila: The Scourge of God which I thoroughly enjoyed. Laidlaw continues the story of Rome in the 5th and 6th centuries with Theoderic , which covers the life of the cultured Gothic king of Italy who ruled with the blessing of the Byzantine Emperor as vice-regent.

Lately I have just finished the last book in Laidlaw’s trilogy called Justinian: The Sleepless One

Laidlaw has a somewhat limited creative writing style and seems to use the same devices to construct the narrative quite regularly, but he can be forgiven that as he tries very hard to make his books as historically accurate as he can, supplemented by copious notes, appendices and explanations.

Whilst preparing this article I came across this interview with Marie Heese, who has written two novels about one of history’s bad girls; the Empress Theodora. But was she so bad? She proved loyal to Justinian and did a lot to improve the lives of women, especially prostitutes, in the Empire.

Here, Marie Hesse reads from her most recent book and talks about it but I can’t find it on Amazon.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2012 10:04 pm

    May I introduce you to the excellent Canadian novelist, Guy Gavriel Kay, with an international readership, whose novel(s) is (are) built around a world closely analogous to the Byzantine Empire during Justinian I’s reign. About Sailing to Sarantium (!) one reader on Amazon.ca wrote: “Another spectacular journey by Mr. Gavriel Kay, this time through a parallel byzantine empire. His character development as always leaves you missing good friends when the two book series ends. This two book glimpse into life during the peak of byzantium/constantinople/instabul sends the reader around the byzantine chariot track, into the chambers of the emperor and empress, and through the countryside between a crumbling roman empire and the new power in the world.”

    And another fan wrote:” My love for Byzantium led me to this book. I was pleasantly surprised by the excellent writing, the complex characters, and very believable plot. While Kay considers these books Historic Fantasy, I know enough about history to find them better at explaining history than some Historic Fiction books I’ve read. Highly recommended to anyone who wants a good read with a historic bent.”

    Nuff said!

  2. cynthia curran permalink
    August 12, 2012 6:30 am

    Justinian and Theodora are complex figures in history. Justinian in the east along with Theodora is a saint and in the west they are villains. They probably are somewhere in between and Justinian are religious belief put a few people to death. Something I would not prefer in modern times. Theodora was cruel at times I believe that she might had a Green castrated since he voice his disapproval of her. I doubt that she had Amalasuntha put to death since I really don’t think she threatened Theodora’s married. As for Theodora’s and Justinian’s relationship we really don’t know since the only source is Procopius Secret History or a statement in the Persian Wars about Justinian being fond of Theodora and John of Cappadocia trying to cancel out her influence. But maybe Procopus was being careful there since lhat work unlike the Secret History would be more available.Other ancient writers like Malalas, or Evagrius Scholasticus even John of Ephesus are not interested in that but policy or religious beliefs. I read parts of Justinian and the Making of the Syrian Orthodox Church where Justinian use Theodora on the Monophysite issue. So maybe Justinian didn’t go so crazy about Theodora as we think from Procopius. Not saying there was no respect for each other there probably was or some love but it might have been exaggerated by the influence of Procopius.

  3. cynthia curran permalink
    August 12, 2012 10:21 pm

    Ross Laidlaw book I just read the chapter you get when you look up online on Amazon. I think its interesting that he writes about Justinian as a baby and discusses his parents in the book. Historians are not able to find out when Justinian came to Constantinople since the earliest info on him was when he was a member of the Candidantii guards under Anastatsius. As for fiction books Stella Duffy’s Actress, Empress, Whore has a different angle where Theodora is sent to spy on Justinian by Bishop Timothy of Alexanderia and Narses sees the advantage since the common man seen her in the therater-support from the common man and Justinian seeing the political advantage of trying to get the monophysites on his side by marry Theodora even with the bad repute and really trying to bring everyone to Chalcedon

  4. proverbs6to10 permalink*
    August 19, 2012 9:53 am

    Ross admits that the account of the childhood is fiction but he is trying to put Justinian’s poor background in context and also what Laidlaw believes was a strong character flaw, that of cowardice.

  5. cynthia curran permalink
    May 26, 2013 12:57 am

    Well, got an online copy finally of Ross Laidlaw’s book, its interesting on Justinian. Its possible that Justinian might have as Laidlaw mntion a lifetime virigin and had a strange type of love for Theodora which might have been based on her smarts. It seems that accoridng to the anicent sources she was the only woman in his life but we know little of his life before age 38 where it mentions in some souces like Victor T he was a guard and the same in Peter the Patrican. As for Theoora being a lesbian not certain since according to Procopius she had a guy castrated that insulted her and accuse him of being gay.

  6. cynthia curran permalink
    May 26, 2013 1:03 am

    The Sleepless one seems similar to Harold Lamb’s Theodora and the Drama of Justinian written in the 1950’s. The Justinian in that is also bookish with grand plans that ruin people at times and has sort of admiration of the mind with Theodora there but Justinian is a litle more sexual in that novel.

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