Thursday, 2 April 2020

#BookReview — The Sign of the Blood (A Dangerous Emperor, Book #1) by Laurence O'Bryan #HistoricalFiction #AncientRome @LPOBryan

The Sign of the Blood
(A Dangerous Emperor, Book #1)
By Laurence O'Bryan

A compelling tale of power, destiny and desire from an award winning, #1 Amazon bestselling author.
Cool mist settles over the legion sneaking toward the Persian army. Constantine, the son of an emperor, the Roman officer leading this raid, tells his men to halt - something is wrong. Have they been seen in the pre-dawn light? Before long, the battle rages. Eventually he frees a slave named Juliana. She is half Persian and half Roman. As they are pursued to Britannia over land and sea, he learns that she can see the future - his future.
It is 306A.D., long before Constantine the Great converted to Christianity and became the first Christian emperor.
To ensure he survives, he must now eliminate his enemies. But who must die first? The priestess, Sybellina, who joined them in Rome and practices dark and seductive magic? Or the brutal legion commanders who surround his father? Or, as Juliana suspects, are those who want him dead even closer?
An electrifying historical novel about Constantine’s bloody rise to power, the woman who helped him, and the real reason he supported a persecuted Christian minority, a decision which changed the world into the one we know.

"Everything would have been so different if the Persians hadn't come."

But come they did, and Juliana's life was irrevocably changed forever. No longer free, she is sold into slavery. Her life is now at the mercy of her master. 

Constantine dreams of the day he can escape Galerius' grasp and stand on the battlefield next to his father. But right now, he must concentrate on staying alive. A chance discovery may well help him take control of his destiny once and for all. If he can defeat the Persians, if he can bring honour to his name then maybe, just maybe, his father will name him as heir and one day he too will become an Emperor.

From the Battle of Satala to the death of an Emperor, The Sign of the Blood (A Dangerous Emperor, Book #1) by Laurence O'Bryan is the unforgettable story of Constantine the Great's rise to power.

With an elegant turn of phrase and a visceral understanding of what makes history worth reading, O'Bryan has given his readers a Constantine that is incredibly real in the telling. Constantine is a young man who wants to achieve recognition, who wants to become a man whom his father, Emperor Constantius Chlorus, would be proud of. At the beginning of this tale of Emperors and Empires, Constantine is at the mercy of Emperor Galerius. Historical sources tell us that there were numerous plots by Galerius to end Constantine's life but without much success. O'Bryan gives his readers a very lucid account of Constantine's struggle with being at the mercy of Galerius, and also his subsequent flight from the man who had blighted his life for many years.

Constantine is a very likeable character in this story. He is an honourable and kind man whose struggles with his destiny and what that destiny might mean for everyone around him. He is appalled by acts of unnecessary violence by men such as Governor Martinianus, and he cannot stand aside and remain silent about the injustice that he bears witness to. O'Bryan has certainly painted a portrait of how and why Constantine became who he was.

The other protagonist in this tale is a young girl, who has both Persian and Roman blood running through her veins. Rescued from the Persians by Constantine, Juliana's story is tragically moving. From slave to free woman, Julianna is the kind of protagonist a reader can get behind and root for. Although fictional in the telling, Juliana brings so much to the narrative of this novel, and she really drives the plot forward. Through her, O'Bryan describes what life was like for a slave and how it wasn't just a brutal master a slave had to fear — sometimes it was the other slaves as well. I feared for Juliana's life on more than one occasion, she really does go through the mill — it is one trauma after another. O'Bryan has her respond to the events that befall her in a very human way. Juliana is a strong character because she has to be if she wants to survive, but the emotional trauma that she suffers is evident throughout this book.

There are a host of secondary characters in this novel, which bring something unique to the story, and they all have their parts to play. I thought O'Bryan's portrayal of Lucius Aurelius Armenius was sublime. O'Bryan's depiction of the priestess, Sybellina, brings something very sinister to the plot as well.

Writing historical fiction set during the Roman Empire is incredibly challenging. The "history" of the period is often not consistent with the sources — for inscriptions, and the scribes who documented the history are often biased in their account of events. There are primary sources aplenty but the authenticity, the truth, is often hidden behind almost two thousand years worth of political propaganda. Therefore, I have tremendous respect for authors who write about the Roman Empire. But, I am particularly respectful of those who write about the Crisis of the Third Century which saw the Roman Empire's near collapse under the combined pressures of civil wars, peasant rebellions, political instability and barbarian invasions. This was a time when Roman resilience was tested to its limits. O'Bryan's book begins just after this crisis in 297 AD. He has portrayed the turn of the 4th century with a lavish sense of opulence. Nothing, it seems, is beyond the telling — from the Persian camp to the grandeur of the Imperial Palace. O'Bryan takes us on a journey of historical discovery and architectural brilliance. He writes with such skill and authority that I could almost smell the stench and fear of the slave markets — the metallic taste of blood on the battlefields.

It is the battle scenes that are portrayed with such vivid attention to the historical detail where O'Bryan seemingly comes into his own — they are lucid, evocative, and all too graphic in the telling. The fear, the despair, and the adrenaline of the soldiers as they fought to stay alive rang clearly out through the crystalline prose and expressive narrative. It is clear to see that O'Bryan was in his absolute element as he composed these scenes. The ambush by the Roman army of the Persians camp was especially vivid in the telling. Kudos Mr O'Bryan. Kudos, indeed.

There are many distressing scenes in this book that some readers will find very upsetting. O'Bryan does not shy away from the absolute horror that women and children faced when captured by the enemy. Nor does he sugarcoat what it was like to be a slave during this era. The romantic notions of The Roman Empire, the staggering architectural triumphs, and the extravagant lifestyle that the Imperial family and the patricians lived are overshadowed by the brutality of what life was like if you were a plebeian or a slave. Therefore, it is fitting that O'Bryan explores the fragility and frailty of the human condition throughout this book. We see humanity at its best and its worst. This attention to detail, along with a story that is impressive as it is splendid, made this novel unputdownable. 

The Sign of the Blood (A Dangerous Emperor, Book #1) by Laurence O'Bryan is a book that is especially hard to turn away from. It captured my attention from the opening sentences and did not let go of me until the final full-stop. It is an enthralling story from start to finish.

The Sign of the Blood is a must-read for fans of battle heavy Historical Fiction and for anyone with an interest in Constantine the Great and Ancient Rome.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Pick up your copy of
The Sign of the Blood

Laurence O'Bryan

My roots go back to a small estate deep in the Mountains of Mourne near the Silent Valley, in County Down, Northern Ireland.

I went to school in Dublin, drank way too much, studied English and history, then business, then IT at Oxford University.

My research has taken me all over the world, from San Francisco to deep in the Muslim world. There are secrets everywhere. I enjoy writing about them. I hope you enjoy reading about them.

I grew up learning Latin and loving books such as Robert Graves', I, Claudius. I spent over twenty years studying Roman history, reading every book about Constantine the Great I could find, and visiting numerous sites where my Roman series is set, including, Jerusalem, Rome and Istanbul.

My books have:
* Achieved #1 ranking on Amazon,
* Been translated into 10 languages.

Laurence is also the founder of BooksGoSocial.

Connect with Laurence: Amazon Author PageTwitterGoodreads.

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx