(reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer APR 23, 2004)
Hadrian’s Wall is many things.
For Galba Brassidias, a Roman cavalryman, Hadrian’s wall is the culmination of his ambitions. Home of the famous Petriana Cavalry, a force that he, briefly is able to assume command of, it is the farthest outpost of the Roman empire, a place rife with the chance for a low born man to become a great one.
For Lucius Marcus Flavius it is a chance to make his military mark and please his father...even if it means unseating Galba from command and taking over, thanks to the intervention of his future father-in-law. For his wife-to-be, Valeria, it is an adventure, a place where she may become a woman and become herself.
For Arden Caratacus, a Scotti chieftain, it is a blight that reminds him of Rome‘s love of subjugation.
And for Inspector Draco, it is the place of a story that he must slowly piece together, a mystery and a tragedy that he must decide the cause of.
We follow Draco, but not in the usual way. In between the main story he...and the reader...sit down with various witnesses, solders, slaves, even a captured druid. We listen a little to their tale, to the narration that explains the importance of what we are about to see. In the main chapters, the stories that the witnesses tell coalesce together, and Draco is carried away by what he thinks most likely happened, and we have the book proper. It begins with a battle, and the capture of a Scotti prince who is made a slave by the Roman who defeated him. Soon we meet Valeria, who, as a Senator’s daughter, has been strictly raised on the ideals of a Roman Matron: propriety, nobility, respect. It has never been enough to tame her wildness, she loves to ride horses, and instead of looking down on everything that she encounters as being lesser than Rome she sees it all as exciting and fascinating. Her wonder infects the reader, and though from the beginning she is portrayed as the likely cause of so many deaths, you find yourself liking her. For her, everything is exciting, everything brand new. She’s eager to be a real wife, and she asks questions all the time. She even learns Celtic language from one of the kitchen slaves...she says so that they can’t talk about them behind her and her slave, Savia’s, backs, but I think it’s because she’s insatiable in her need to know.
Galba is the one who meets them in Londinium and escorts them to the wall...a trip that is not at all uneventful, and makes one wonder if he’s really simply following orders, trying to put a good face on his loss (and what feels like a betrayal...he worked hard for that promotion, and it is bitter, to have it taken away so swiftly for the sake of a political marriage) or does he have grander schemes? The trip is also the first time she meets Arden...handsome, charismatic, his comments, such as her love for horseback riding, make it obvious that someone on the inside’s been passing him information.
It is a very complicated web of politics and strategy. The Roman way of life comes through very well here, portrayed by how every one acts to keep their honor, to keep their reputations intact while maneuvering to improve both these things through martial valor. We also get an interesting glimpse at marriage....the wedding ceremony is really first-rate, and I think gives us a true idea of what Roman morality is like. Emotionlessness is prized....the couple is only allowed to be openly affectionate to each other on their wedding day. The very stiff life style of the Romans is contrasted by the festive yet simple Celtic lifestyle that we eventually get to see. Behind the wonderfully portrayed cultures plots are always lurking...and you know that trouble for one of the characters is only a page turn away.
Extremely well researched, this book will be a real treat for fans of this historical period. The “real time” narrative where we experience events directly, rather than discovering them later (for example, with the wonderful Falco Didius series, where we have a Roman gumshoe who tracks down things after the events and we follow him directly) is well done and enjoyable. There’s even a pinch of romance to go with the intrigue.
- Amazon readers rating: from 6 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Hadrian's Wall at MostlyFiction.com
(back to top)
Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Ice Reich (1998)
- Getting Back (2000)
- Dark Winter (2001)
- Hadrian's Wall: A Novel of Roman England (March 2004)
- The Scourge of God (March 2005)
- Napoleon's Pyramids (February 2007)
- The Rosetta Key (April 2008)
- The Final Forest: The Battle for the Last Great Trees fo the Pacific Northwest (1992)
- Northwest Passage: The Great Columbia River (1995; June 2003 in pb)
- Natural Grace: The Charm, Wonder and Lessons of Pacific Northwest Animals and Plants (February 2003)
(back to top)
- The official website for William Dietrich
- William Dietrich donates book royalites to Institute
- CS Monitor review of Getting Back
- Reading Guide for Hadrian's Wall
- The Celebrity Cafe review of Hadrian's Wall
(back to top)
About the Author:
William Dietrich was born in 1951 and grew up in Tacoma, WA. A journalism graduate of Western Washington University, he has spent most of his life in the Pacific Northwest, with brief sojourns in Washington, D.C. and Boston. He spent a year at Harvard University at the Nieman fellowship program for journalists, was a fellow at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts.
Dietrich is a novelist, Pulitzer-winning journalist, historian and naturalist; working as a journalist for a quarter century before turning to fiction after two visits to the Anartica.
He is married, has two grown daughters, and lives in Anacortes, Washington.