The Conqueror (Constantine’s Empire #1)

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.

Title:

The Conqueror (Constantine’s Empire #1)

Author:

Bryan Litfin

Publisher:

Revell (a division of Baker Publishing Group)

http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/revell

Publication Date:

October 13, 2020

Format:

Hardcover

Length:

496 pages

OVERVIEW

The year is 309 AD. A Germanic barbarian named Brandulf Rex has been recruited by Constantine to spy on opposing Romans. Meanwhile in Rome, Junia Flavia lives the privileged life of a senator’s daughter but must decide how much of her Christian faith to display to people. Soon Flavia and Rex find themselves working together to stop Emperor Maxentius from defeating Constantine and plunging the empire into a time of new darkness. Will their plans work… and will they find something with each other that they don’t expect?

Litfin manages to pull off the hard task of telling a story and giving historical explanations in a way that feels more or less natural. Some history scholars can create plots based on history, but end up throwing in so many historical details that the plot slows down (see John Byron’s book A Week in the Life of a Slave as an example). Litfin also finds a clever way to show how paganism and Christianity differed in this period by creating characters who are in different ethnic groups and social positions.

Unfortunately, the dialogue for these characters is not always great. Sometimes Litfin appears to be having characters talk like modern-day people as a joke. In one scene, thugs show up to kidnap a woman and the lackeys call the main character “boss” and behave a bit like stock characters in a low-budget crime comedy. In a related scene a man who is divorcing his wife says, “She got old. I got tired of her. It happens to a lot of men.” This kind of contemporary humor can work well in a parody, but as a side joke in a carefully researched novel it feels rather odd. It’s not clear if the author is trying to be funny or just doesn’t know what other dialogue to use.

Other times characters say things which sound flat. For example, after Emperor Constantine has converted to Christianity, he considers executing someone who has betrayed him, a bishop convinces him to take the merciful option. Constantine mutters to himself, “I think being a Christian is going to be hard work.” This sort of line may be realistic; everyone says things out loud which make sense but sound inane when one thinks about it. Somehow though, flat dialogue doesn’t work well in fictional works unless the other elements are exceptionally good. In the same way that a story that has no direction feels wrong (even though real life often seems direction-less), dialogue that sounds obvious or lacks rhythm feels wrong (even though people say obvious, flat statements all the time). In Litfin’s case, the flat dialogue gives the impression he hasn’t fully realized his characters, giving them distinct and memorable ways of talking.

Characterization problems aside, the book is entertaining and overall well-done. Litfin gives readers an enjoyable and thought-provoking story with relevant theological themes.

ASSESSMENT

Rating (1 to 5 stars)

3 stars

Suggested Audience

Christians looking for historical fiction that focuses on ancient Christianity and military history.

Christian Impact

The author uses the setting to raise questions about what it means to believe in things like mercy, love for one’s brother in a context where the conventional religious teachings are pagan and therefore provide very different answers.

The Conqueror (Constantine's Empire, #1)


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