Now here I must be careful. Having just reviewed three books by superbly talented writers I come to a first novel by someone who is still recognizably a genre novelist. Thomas Harlan's book, The Shadow of Ararat, did rate close to the top of last year's Locus Poll for best first novel. He is also a serious contender for the Campbell Award, but he still has a bit to learn about the craft of writing compared to the previous three offerings. I'm trying not to be too hard on him just because the rest of what I have been reading was so good.

The Shadow of Ararat is the first book in a series entitled The Oath of Empire. It is one of those books that give genre cataloguers nightmares. Quite clearly it is fantasy. It has magic and demons and necromancy. But it is also a complex alternate history of Rome in the 7th Century that appears to promise survival of the Empire and continuation of Roman civilization. I guess Harry Turtledove has now legitimized the alternate history fantasy, so hopefully not too many people will be upset.

I should also point out that Harlan's fantasy is leagues away from that of Jan Siegel. In his world, magic is a well-understood phenomenon used primarily for medicinal purposes and in warfare. Although some of his descriptions of necromancy are quite good, there is little mythic spark in his writing. It is magic for science fiction fans.

The book has a multi-strand structure with a variety of lead characters. The major players are Dwyrin, a young Irishman shortly to become a legionary in the Third Ars Magica; Thyatis, the female Centurion of a crack Roman commando troop; and Maxian, the Western Emperor's sorcerer brother. As you might guess, there are times when one has to step back and remind oneself that this is an alternate history, not a fantasy novel set in historical Rome. Otherwise one's disbelief would quickly become prostrate rather than suspended.

The bulk of the plot revolves around an alliance between the two Roman emperors (East and West) against the Persian king, Chrosoes. I did, for a few brief moments, worry that this was going to be another one of those American anti-Moslem propaganda books. But it quickly became clear that Harlan's world is one in which Christ did not exist, Zoroastrianism is the main source of food for the Coliseum lions, and Mohammed may be finding some rather different outlets for his leadership talents. There are no simplistic politics here.

What you will find is a lot of military talk. Harlan is an experienced game designer with an enormously successful play-by-mail game behind him. I suspect he has played a lot of ancients wargaming. Certainly he loves the period and the characters, from well-known commanders such as Caesar and Alexander to lesser luminaries such as Queen Zenobia of Palmyra. Fortunately the military stuff does not completely take over the book, though it can get a bit wearing in places.

In addition to his knowledge of ancient warfare, Harlan demonstrates a good basic grounding in the history of the period. At the beginning of the book he has a lot of fun playing with the reader regarding what is real history and what is made up. So yes, concrete was a common building material in ancient Rome. And the escalator in the Imperial palace? Well, it is technically feasible. I'll have to look it up. The only thing that I found really out of place (as opposed to being a well-judged alteration) was having an Irishman with a last name of MacDonald. Something like Uí Domnhaill might have been more appropriate.

The war between the Romans and Persians is the major plot theme for the opening book of the series, but the long term plot is something quite different and more to do, I think, with preserving civilisation against the Dark Ages than mere military conquest. It is not yet clear quite where Harlan is going with these ideas, but there are some interesting possibilities.

My main difficulties with the book were with the characterisation and the micro-plotting. Far too many of the characters, even the main players, are very thinly portrayed. It was quite noticeable that one of the most vibrant characters in the book is a revenant. Of course he is based on a real person, which must help. As for the plot, there were far too many places where things happened because it was necessary for them to happen, rather than because it made sense at the time. These are both things that Harlan will get better at with practice. I might also point out that something that looks great in an episode of Mission Impossible does not necessarily translate easily to the printed word. TV and books are not the same medium. Again I think Harlan will learn.

Stepping back and looking at the novel from a philosophical perspective, I have to conclude that this is a book that glorifies military conquest and the concept of monarchy. It is, to a certain extent, a romanticisation of the ancient world. But it does not gloss over the nastier sides of conquest and empire. There is plenty of cynicism, betrayal and brutality. That doesn't entirely excuse the theme, but at least it shows that Harlan's adoration is far from blinkered.

Anyway, book two in the series was available at Worldcon, so I had better find out what Harlan is doing with the long-term plot. There is that Campbell Award to think about as well. ~ Cheryl Morgan in Emerald City #65.

Thomas Harlan's impressive first novel and the first book in his Oath of Empire series. Alternate world epic fantasy where the Roman Empire has survived into the 7th Century, supported by the steel of the Legions and the magic of its Thaumaturges. Galen Atreus, Emperor of the West, and Heraclius, Emperor of the East, join forces against Rome's greatest foe, Persia. This brutal conflict will be fought with both armies and magic. Harlan shows the conflict from several different viewpoints and weaves these intriguing plots into a coherent and fascinating whole. There's plenty of action and the battle scenes are descibed in vivid detail. Highly recommended reading to anyone liking realistic fantasy worlds or alternative history.


•very long• •multiple plot lines, flashbacks, and/or alternating chapters related from different points of view• •simple and straight forward• •a real 'page turner'• •the intent is to entertain• •background is detailed• •focuses on several characters of different sexes whose lives are intertwined• •characters are developed over time• •series characters• •memorable and important secondary characters• •ending is ambiguous•
The geographic setting(s) of the book: Roman and Persian Empires.
The time period(s) of the book: 622 A.D.
~ From the Reader's Robot site (Kamloops, CA, library)

We're in the Roman Empire again in Shadow of Ararat, but with a difference. This novel is set in an alternate universe, where the Western Empire never fell, and both the Western and Eastern halves of Roman power come together to counter a threat from the Persians.

Again the narrative has different threads. The three principal characters are Dwyrin Macdonald, a young Hibernian mage, Thyatis, a Roman woman trained in guerilla warfare, and Maxian, the youngest brother of the Western Emperor. While Thyatis works undercover for Roman military victory, Dwyrin serves in a Roman legion of magicians - a brilliant idea! - and Maxian attempts to unravel a curse on Rome.

I found a lot to enjoy in this novel, but I found it frustrating. So many of its ideas are not fully realised. For example, Dwyrin is despatched from his training school to the legions before he is ready, and it's foretold that he will be swamped in trying to use his magic arts along with people twenty years his senior. In fact, when he reports to his unit after a series of hair-raising adventures, he finds himself serving with others of his own age, where he's quickly brought up to speed. It's almost as if Harlan had forgotten his original intention. And although the book ends with various plot threads drawing to a conclusion, others - notably Maxian's curse - aren't resolved at all. There's evidently more to come.

This is a big, sprawly novel, and I think it shows that it's Harlan's first. Lots of invention, not much discipline. Although the background and the parameters of the world come over vividly, after a while I felt there was too much concentration on descriptive detail while the pace of the story lagged. The style is uneven; some sentences are clumsy and repetitive, with occasional errors or inappropriate bits of US slang. However, mine is an advance copy, and perhaps a final edit or proof-read will remove these.

The book is not negligible, but I felt it was slightly disappointing. ~ Cherith Baldry, Vector, November 1999

The premise of Shadow of Ararat is a good one: it is the 7th century and the Roman Empire still rules, still worships the old gods. A claim of Roman citizenship is one of the highest goals to which a man can aspire. But this is an alternate history, and the author is allowed one major difference between our familiar Rome of the history books and his enduring Empire. Again he's chosen well, at least for fans of speculative fiction. Magic works in this Rome, and thamaturges labor beside centurions to protect and defend both East and West.

Even with the aid of magic, sustaining the Empire has been no easy feat. Just when it seems the last barbarians have been won over as allies and the twin capitals of Rome and Constantinople can take a breather, Persia begins to threaten. As the book opens, Galen Atreus, Emperor of the West, and Heraclius, Emperor of the East, join forces to overthrow mad Chroseos II, Emperor of Persia.

So far so good, and soon to get better. As we follow the course of the war against Persia, it quickly becomes obvious that Harlan knows his stuff. The strategies of war are drawn up with a loving hand, as is the deal-making, the false promises to beleaguered allies, the mustering of troops, the marching, the assaults on enemy strongholds.

The big picture is fine indeed. Where Harlan runs into problems is in the realization of the people who carry out his schemes, and in the little, day-to-day details of anger and sadness, pain and joy, of actually being alive.

Harlan follows four main characters who are of varying degrees of importance in the campaign against Persia, and for the most part they are a wooden lot indeed.

Dwyrin MacDonald is a young Irishman with a magical gift who has been sent to a school of sorcery in Upper Egypt. Partly through his own shenanigans and partly through political game-playing, he is prematurely initiated and sent to fight with the Roman army, even though he can barely control his gift for calling fire. To me Dwyrin is the most boring of the four leads. Though he will doubtless assume more importance during the next novel (don't tell me you thought this was a stand-alone!), until late in this novel he is the perfect example of the passive main character. Things happen to Dwyrin--he doesn't do much on his own. He is expelled from school. His orders are lost and he is handed over to a slave ship. He is acquired by an evil sorcerer. Note all the "be" verbs.

Thyatis Julia Clodia is a Roman centurion, a covert warfare specialist, and leads her unit behind enemy lines to break down the defenses of enemy cities and end a siege before it evens begins. I found Thyatis Julia the most unbelievable of the four leads. Her position as a young, beautiful female leader of grizzled veterans is never explained, save to have her wonder why they follow her. She doesn't know, and neither do we. She does have some of the most fun in the book as she travels about, fomenting rebellion as she tosses back her long tresses.

Ahmet is an Egyptian priest/sorcerer at Dwyrin's school who gets an attack of conscience when the boy is kicked out and sets off to rescue him. Ahmet meets up with Mohammed (yes, that Mohammed) instead. They join Roman allies Nabatea and Palmyra, desert cities facing superior Persian forces without Roman aid. I found Ahmet the most inconsistent of the four leads. The level of his power is never commented on, never tested, until the end. I had no inkling of his abilities, and I get the feeling Harlan didn't either. He just needed a good sorcerer at the end, and Ahmet was available.

Finally, Maxian Atreus, Emperor Galen's youngest brother, is a healer-magician who discovers a "curse" protecting the State from inimical magic but also preventing nonmagical progress. He sets out to lift it at any cost. Maxian is the most sympathetic and finely-detailed character, but my main problem with him (and this concerns the whole book) is his magic. Since there are academies for magic it has apparently been somewhat systematized, but at the end of the book I have no idea how the magic of this world works. Maxian starts out with rather modest powers, but by the end of the book he is one of the most powerful sorcerers in the world. How did this happen? Yes, he resurrected Julius Caesar (a rather fun character, by the way) but how did that give him greater power, and why does it continue to grow? In the best fantasies, the fantastic element is as rigorously worked out as any scientific principle. Harlan may have done that, but it doesn't show in the book.

I must emphasize that this book is nothing to be ashamed of for a first novel. Harlan obviously knows Rome. But in his next book he needs to work on his characters and to forbear from pushing the plot around just to get from point A to point B.

I wanted to marvel at the grand sweep and scope of the spectacle he presents, but when he showed it to me through the eyes of characters I cared nothing about, the confetti faded and the balloons all went flat. So to speak.

Oh, and I hope he stops describing the clothing. I got so tired of tunics with simple stitching at the collar and cuffs. Honest to gosh, it was just like a Cher concert.... - Lori White 10/99 at the Fictional Rome web-site.


This would appear to be excellent and something different from those fantasies set in 'dragonland'. It comes with some outstanding recommendations from the likes of Orson Scott Card, Dennis L McKiernan, David Drake, & Ellen Kushner. It is the author's first published novel - could it be a collector's item in time to come? I certainly think so - this is my current read and so far it is very good indeed - Ray at Andromeda Books UK.

A forthright review of SHADOW from John Savage (of Savage Reviews!)

Steve Silver's generally positive review of SHADOW on SFNet.

Harlan debuts with an alternate-history yarn driven by magic that, while it has its faults, bodes well for his future. It opens at about 600 A.D. as our reality reckons things. The Roman emperors of the eastern and western empires forge an alliance to lift the Persian siege of Constantinople and thereafter embark on an effort to emulate Alexander the Great and conquer Persia. (The Sassanid Persians finally seem to be getting their share of the action in sf and fantasy.) For this adventure, the emperors need not only the swords of the legions but some potent dark sorcery, which is described in action in considerable detail that shows off Harlan's knowledge of history and folklore. The viewpoint character for all this is a young Irishman studying sorcery in Egypt when the story begins. Harlan embellishes a conventional plot with many creative touches, characterization is not a problem for him, and only pacing and dialogue should have been worked on a bit more. ~ Roland Green, Booklist at Northern Light.

Epic fantasies have been particularly strong for the last few years. The genre started by J. R. R. Tolkein with: large battles, long journeys, sparkling magic, and a line drawn between good and evil; has gathered new strength as authors with unique views have appeared on the scene.

Alternate universes have also made a come back, due mainly to the efforts of Harry Turtledove who fought World War II with aliens and had the south win the Civil War twice.

Thomas Harlan's The Shadow of Aratat combines both genres perfectly with the first book of a wild adventure, and got my pulse pounding. It takes place in what would have been the sixth century of the Christian era, except that Christianity never appeared. Real magic has given paganism a hold almost impossible to break. Mohammed, counterpart of the famous one, shows up here, but I doubt that Islam will appear. The Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium in our world) is under siege from a rising Persian empire, and the Western Roman Emperor decides to help his fellow emperor with many legions under his command.

Four major characters allow Mr. Harlan viewpoints into this carefully constructed world. Dwyrin is a student at an Egyptian priestly school of magic. A troublemaker he is given access to his powers too early and sent to fill a quota directed by the Roman Empire for its war needs. His talent lies in raising fire – extremely powerful fire that can burn his enemies to ashes. I enjoyed his youthful naivety and enjoyed seeing him come to maturity.

His teacher, Ahmet, disgusted at what the school has done, quits and eventually finds himself helping a minor country fight off one of the Persian armies at the city of Palmyra. There he has to face a powerful, evil, Persian wizard in an epic battle of sorcery. His is also the tale of an old man finding the love of his life.

Thyatis is that impossible-to-conceive character, a woman Centurion. She is probably the only one her Rome has ever seen. She and her men are sent undercover to Persian cities fated to Roman attack with a mission to undermine the defenses of those cities. Her enthusiasm for battle sparks all the scenes she appears in.

Finally there is the younger brother of the Emperor, a healer with the ability to raise the dead, he is on a quest to cure Rome of a curse that only he has discovered. Aided by a Persian wizard and a revived Julius Caesar his goes from being a genial young man eager to help and heal, to a single-minded fanatic fighting an evil that only he can see.

Thomas Harlan shows us the full Roman world: from its legions to its food; from its temples to its prisons; from its palaces to its hovels; and brings it alive. Subtly he shows the massive research he must have made to bring it alive with all its more's and culturisms.

I can't wait for the continuation of the series.

~ Nick Lazarus at Delphi SF Lit Forum Reviews (November 1999)

Thomas Harlan's impressive first novel, The Shadow of Ararat, delivers big-screen entertainment. It's an alternate history with babes, battles, and believable magic theory and technology, not to mention political intrigue and major spectacle. Think Spartacus meets Merlin by way of Frankenstein.

The Roman Empire has reached our 7th century without falling or becoming Christian. Galen Atreus, Emperor of the West, and Heraclius, Emperor of the East, join forces to overthrow Chroseos II, Emperor of Persia. The book follows four major characters. Dwyrin MacDonald, a young Irishman learning sorcery, is prematurely initiated and sent to fight with the Roman army, though he can barely control his gift for calling fire. The Roman Thyatis Julia Clodia, a covert warfare specialist, leads her unit behind enemy lines. Ahmet, an Egyptian priest/sorcerer at Dwyrin's school, sets out to rescue Dwyrin but meets Mohammed (yes, that Mohammed). They join Roman allies Nabatea and Palmyra, desert cities facing superior Persian forces without Roman aid. Finally, Maxian Atreus, Galen's youngest brother, a healer-magician, discovers a "curse" protecting the State from inimical magic but also preventing nonmagical progress. He sets out to lift it at any cost, resurrecting canny Julius Caesar and searching for Alexander the Great--an even greater source of magical power.

Harlan's ability to evoke cinematic images makes scenes come alive. There's plenty of action and an ending that both satisfies and promises lots more to follow. ~ Nona Vero,


"In some ways, The Shadow of Ararat and Sailing to Sarantium are remarkably similar. Both novels are crafted from the legends and history we define today as "classical"- that of the Roman and Byzantine empires at the height of their power and influence. Both draw protagonists from the far reaches of their respective empires into elite circles of intrigue, conspiracy, and danger. And
both begin epics that promise to continue in further volumes.

The spine of the advance copy bills The Sbadow of Ararat as fantasy, but the description does first-time novelist Thomas Harlan a disservice. True, the world Harlan presents - a Roman empire where  Christianity never took hold, and mighty
brother emperors rule from Rome in the west and Constantinople in the east-is markedly different from that of our own sixth century. But he builds this shadow-Rome brick by brick from authentic materials and populates it with convincingly drawn characters, including several whose histories in our world are well known. Better still, Harlan's command of military strategy and tactics is thorough and vividly realized. When Roman and Persian armies clash in these pages, we can feel the dust sting our eyes and the ground shake beneath the rush of cavalry charges.

At the same time, the novel is unconventional by the usual standards of alternate history, notably with regard to Harlan's treatment of matters magical.
Sorcery is real in this milieu, and diverse in its application. The Egyptian academy where "barbarian" Dwyrin MacDonald is a student begins by teaching him plausible-seeming meditative techniques and disciplines. However, when Dwyrin is abruptly pressed into a military assignment, he proves to possess dangerous fire-calling powers. Maxian Atreus, brother to two emperors, has priestly healing abilities-but upon discovering an insidious, long-hidden curse that could wither the entire empire from within, he channels his gifts into a series of bizarre necromantic experiments. And behind the magic- backed Persian armies that threaten Constantinople lurks a presence that may be demonic in origin.

In unskilled hands, a narrative on this scale could quickly become a hopeless, confusing tangle. Harlan, however, is equal to the challenge. The grand sweep of the Roman and Persian military campaigns neatly balanced by the attention he devotes to his major and minor protagonists, whose adventures are woven through the novel. Besides Dwyrin and Maxian, these include Thyatis Julia Clodia, a young woman whose skill at undercover warfare proves invaluable to the Roman cause, and the Egyptian sorcerer Ahmet, a onetime teacher of Dwyrin's whose decision to track down his pupil ultimately leads him in a far different direction.

Sailing to Sarantium, by contrast, focuses primarily on a single individual. Crispin of Varena is a gifted mosaicist. The new Sarantine emperor needs such an artist to design an intricate, tiled pattern that adorn an enormous domed shrine, and Guy Gavriel Kay's novel' chronicles Crispin's response to that call. While Kay has changed the names and altered the landscape, it is clear both from the title and the imagery that this, too, is a narrative built on the foundations of Byzantine history and culture. From similar roots, though, Kay has grown a much different empire. Where Constantinople and Rome stand together in Harlan's milieu, Sarantium endures alone, surviving long past the fall of Phodia, a dim memory at the time of Kay's narrative. And while the Sarantine empire appears to be the cultural center of its world, its military and political influence is not so broad A network of surrounding kingdoms and states respects Sarantine power but is governed loosely at best by Sarantine interests. Crispin, for example, is able to exploit corruption in a government-run inn to save a young woman marked for ritual sacrifice, and the queen of a border state secretly recruits him to deliver a highly personal message to the Sarantine emperor.

When Kay's novel concerns itself with action and dialogue-the aforementioned rescue, a high-stakes chariot race, Crispin's intrigue-ridden appearance at a Sarantine court banquet - Sailing to Sarantium sparkles with wit and complexity. But all too often Kay steps back from the main plot, adopting an odd mix of a voice-over narrator's tone and the academic style of a scholar writing many years after the fact. The result reads more like a travelogue than a novel: vivid visual imagery, but little substantive content or dramatic conflict. The
contrast between Harlan's plotting, and Kay's is more than a matter of differing structures. The suspense in Ararat doesn't spring solely from its multiple protagonists, but from Harlan's ability to surprise the reader within each of the many strands of the plot. By contrast, there is virtually no suspense in Sarantium, as nothing that happens to Crispin severely challenges him physically or intellectually. Whenever a dangerous situation arises, Crispin has the right tool at hand to defuse it: the signature of a high-ranking official on his
travel papers, a talisman provided by a convenient alchemist, a clever word or insight that owes as much to authorial stage managing as to Crispin's native wit.

The Shadow of Ararat is not flawless. Where Kay gives too much background - it takes fifty pages of prologue before we so much as meet Crispin - Harlan occasionally delivers slightly less than enough, notably with respect to necromantic matters and the predilections of certain secondary characters. And it is not completely clear just what Dwyrin does and doesn't accomplish during a climactic magical sequence. But where Harlan's first novel skillfully chronicles a full-scale war, Kay's latest tale is mostly setup for future volumes in the series. Sailing to Sarantium is, at best, worth a marginal recommendation. The Shadow of Ararat, by contrast, is not only an ambitious debut novel, but a first-rate alternate history by any standard."
~ Amazing Stories, July 1999

"...Shadow of Ararat, a terrific historical fantasy edited by the legendary Beth Meacham and published by Tor Books." ~ Terri Windling, Endicott Studio Letter from the Editor, June 1999.

"How long has it been since a writer has managed to begin a large-tome, multi-volume epic fantasy giving alternate history the vividness of the real thing and magic the combination of visceral and intellectual impact of the hottest new science - in a first novel? Well, Thomas Harlan has done just that in The Shadow of Ararat.

In this version of the past, the Roman Empire has reached its 14th century, but the year is what we would call something like 600 A.D. There's no Anno Domini here because Christianity has never become the state religion, and may not even exist. (Readers who might find this offensive probably aren't big fantasy readers nowadays.)

And magic works. For a fantasy novel, this may seem to be the bedrock, an utterly obvious condition for existence, but it's here that Thomas Harlan displays real brilliance. In his quite substantial world, thaumaturgy displays some of the insights of nuclear science. A scholar can poke a finger into the palm of a student's hand and note the self-evident nature of the world's solidity, then declare:

But, I tell you, and I will show you, that this not the truth of the
matter. In truth, there is no solidity around you. The world and everything in it is composed of patterns, of shapes, of forms. And these patterns are insubstantial. We exist among great emptiness.

The way in which the teacher proceeds to demonstrate this is nothing that could happen on our own world, but his outlook, and that of most of his colleagues, partakes far more of science than it does of religion, the standard context of magic in epic fantasy. People may speak of their gods but those gods don't seem to participate in human lives, not even behind the scenes.

Just what is going on in this elderly Roman Empire? Well. there's plenty of action - physical, emotional, intellectual. As in our world, by this time the empire has two capitals, Rome and Constantinople, and both face threats: in the West, the afteimath of plague and civil war, while the East confronts a burgeoning Persian Empire. But Rome also seems to stand on the brink of a new era of progress, with the discovery of the printing press, and the (re)discovery of some magics which could be very useful in difficult times, most notably one system that could perform much like TV and spy satellites to link leaders and distant armies.

Unfortunately for the chief thaumaturgical /technological whiz in Rome, Maxian Atreus (younger brother of the current emperor, and a dedicated healer), some strange spell or curse is preventing the development of non-magical tech in Rome. And as he tries to track down the origin of this negative force, both that quest and his imperial brother's eager pursuit of conflict with Persia take on darker elements which turn Maxian from healing and civilian progress toward developing methods of war.

Not all is dark or grim - at least, not in the manner of the gloomiest daily headlines. Maxian's magics, and those of certain others as the narrative moves between cities and viewpoint characters, take on elements of Dr. Frankenstein and his creation. In Constantinople, there's also a hint of Dracula and other devious souls from what we would call Eastern Europe, while Maxian's dealings with the dead lead to one Gaius Julius. a past emperor better known to day as Caesar. Once resurrected, this Julius proves to be both politically canny and remarkably lively, and he gives things a real zest.

Then there's the book's array of marvelous women, skilled in combat, leadership, spy-work, and often seduction as well. Harlan's descriptive talents give his scenes and characters such impact that at times there might seem to be a few too many glorious sunsets and glamorous females, but he always manages to get back to basics - the horrors, and ironies, of war. And that entirely different, sometimes disturbing, allure of the scientific

What lies in the shadow of Ararat, that mountain far to the east of Rome? I'll leave that for you to discover, along with the multitude of fascinations in this extraordinary debut. And then you will likely share my delight that the tale has at least another volume to come. Five hundred pages of Thomas Harlan just whets the appetite for more." ~ LOCUS, June 1999, Reviewed by Faren Miller

"Alternate-world fantasy from newcomer Harlan. At the beginning of the seventh century, in a world where magic works and the Roman Empire never fell, the Western and Eastern Roman Emperors (respectively, Galen and Heraclius) pledge to combine their forces against Rome's greatest foe, Persia. At Constantinople, they will gather their troops, discuss politics, deal with plots, catch spies, and spread deceptions. Galen sends the young Roman woman Thyatis Julia Clodia, a spy-catcher and covert operator, and her Dirty Dozen team on a secret mission deep into Persia. After various adventures, trainee fire-bringer Dwyrin MacDonald joins the Third Ars Magica in Persia, where he'll attempt to douse the sacred fires of Ahura Mazda. Back in Rome, meanwhile, Galen's brother Maxian discovers a corrosive curse at work upon the city, so powerful and insidious that anyone learning of it is immediately consumed; only Maxian and the Persian sorcerer Abdmachus survive long enough to investigate its source. Needing high-energy help, they raise Julius Caesar from the dead! At the same time, the two emperors have formed an alliance with the fierce Khazars, but in attacking Persia, they're forced to abandon some cities to Persian armies already in the field. This allows Dahak, a demon in human guise previously encountered by Dwyrin, to work abominations and raise ensorcelled armies. Abdmachus advises Maxian that they'll need enormous power to break the curse, so they must locate the lost sarcophagus of Alexander the Great—and raise him from the dead, too! Slow to start but eventually absorbing: a notably assured and well-organized debut. Stay tuned for the inevitable series" ~ Kirkus Review, May 1999

"As Roman Emperor Galen Atreus journeys to Constantinople to aid the emperor of the Eastern Empire in an all-or-nothing war against the Persians, his magically gifted brother Maxian remains behind in search of a means of lifting a lingering curse that eats away at the heart of Rome. Caught up in this dual struggle of sorcery and military might, a half-trained Celtic battle mage, a warrior-queen, and a young woman skilled in the covert arts find their talents tested on the altar of honor and sacrifice. Set in a world in which the Roman Empire survives the barbarian invasions, Harlan's first novel features powerful and evocative prose as well as a strong cast of characters, a wealth of vivid detail, and a conclusion that leaves plenty of room for sequels. Highly recommended for fantasy collections." ~ Library Journal, April 15, 1999

"Thomas Harlan takes on the Roman Empire and wins! High and low, male and female, nice and supremely nasty... it's all here in intriguing detail -- including swift flashes of humor and a well-grounded feel for ordinary life, whether in the bedroom or on the battlefield." ~ Ellen Kushner

"Vivid, clever and complex -- war and treachery in a Rome where magic works!" - David Drake

"Woven with the rich detail you'd expect from a first-rate historical novel, while through it all run yarns of magic and shimmering glamours that carry you deeply into your most fantastic dreams. The best news is that this is Thomas Harlan's first novel. Clearly this is the beginning of a long and lustrous career." ~ Orson Scott Card

"Tom Harlan is a writer to watch, a writer with a great future ahead of him. I anxiously await his next book. Come on, Tom, write faster." ~ Dennis L. McKiernan

"Just wanted to tell you how much I am enjoying Thomas Harlan's Shadow of Ararat. It was enticing and addicting to read. Dwyrin is such a wonderful character who draws the reader in and compels them to care about him. I know I did. I can't wait for it to come to the store in July and be able to handsale to my fantasy customers, always on the look out for a good fantasy." ~ Andrew Hobbs, Waldenbooks

In his ambitious first novel, Harlan combines fantasy and alternate history to create a rich depiction of an ancient empire. Set in what would be our A.D. 600, the narrative depicts a Roman empire that is still standing, thanks to the prowess of its military legions and of its thaumaturges. The book’s  many subplots stir into action when the  empire's Western emperor joins his Eastern  counterpart in a war against Persia. Characters include stock villains and unrelievedly heroic heroes, such as the Roman Prince Maxian, who is both a fighter and physician. Fortunately, most of the other major  characters are more rounded; they include a female assassin whose cunning patron sends her into the royal army, an emperor who returns from the dead, a young Hibernian thaumaturge who is prematurely thrust into battle, a Hermetic priest who  mentors his inexperienced pupil in the art of magic and a powerful sorcerer who turns against his country. Harlan incorporates allusions to real history-for example, references to a religious group crucified for not worshipping Roman gods-while twisting history's consequences in other arenas, such as in his descriptions of the effects of lead in Roman drinking water. Even if the novel often lacks the lush detail of similar fantasy and historicals, it adequately evokes the period's landscape, everyday manners, eating and housing. This book marks the start of a planned Oath of Empire series, and most readers of this volume will look forward to the second. ~ Publishers Weekly