• The first review of THE DARK LORD appears in Publisher's Weekly.

Reviews for THE DARK LORD

Publisher's Weekly (June 2002)

(Contains spoilers!)

In the fourth volume of his Oath of Empire series, Harlan (Shadow of Ararat) brings his exquistely detailed, multifacted saga of an alternative seventh-century Roman Empire to a satisfying close. Familiarity with the three previous installments, however, is essential to understanding the motivations of some characters, Mohammed in particular. While the author relegates some important individuals from the earlier books to bit roles in this movie-like chronicle, he develops others more fully, though with somewhat confusing attributes and rationales. Galen, Emperor of Rome, continues to hold the fate of the Empire in the balance, alternately aided and frustrated by his sorcerer brother Maxian. The resurrected Gaius Julius (Caesar) and the Duchess Anastasia intrigue against one another and the brothers, playing out the traditional Roman grasp for power. All oppose the evil Persian sorcerer Dahak, lord of the seven serpents, who can count as his allies the King of Kings, the Palmyran queens and the raised dead. The conflict comes to a head first in Alexandria, where Aurelian, the middle brother, faces especially bloody fighting, dust and suffering. On Aurelian's death, the action moves to Sicilia, where Maxian, now Emperor, finally understands the true nature of his enemy. Rip-roaring battle scenes offset the sometimes slow pace necessary to keep all of the complexities of the story on track. This is opulent historical fantasy on a grand scale.

Reviews for THE GATE OF FIRE (August 1999) by Nona Vero.

This is the second volume of Harlan's fantasy sequence "The Other Empire", which began last year with Shadow of Ararat. As it appears that these are the beginning of a series rather than the first two books of a trilogy, the overall work will be vast. The setting is an alternate Rome, where the Western Empire never fell, and where a recognizably Roman society survived into the seventh century AD. Here magic is common and institutionalized, particularly in Roman legions composed of magicians. The basic conflict in the first book was between the two halves of the Roman Empire on one side and the Persians on the other, but now the stage is opening out, other peoples are drawn into the conflict, and Rome in both East and West is under threat.

When I reviewed the first volume I said that the pace of the story suffered through the detailed description and building up of the background. I feel this is also true - perhaps even more so - of the second volume. The amount of research that Harlan has done is impressive, and the world of his imagination is vividly authentic. Scene by scene it works, yet I felt that for most of the book the thrust of the story was swamped by the detail. I found it hard to tell where it was going, and in many cases the motivations of the characters were obscure. Only in the final section did the threads come together in a compelling sequence.

Stylistically the book is uneven. I was irritated by Harlan's habit of beginning a sentence with 'Too,' (in the sense of 'also'), and that he doesn't seem to know that the word 'magi' is plural. This may seem like nitpicking, but it's enough to jerk this reader at least out of engagement with the story. Another point I would question is his use of Latin words in the dialogue of characters who are, presumably, speaking Latin throughout; again, it breaks the illusion of reality.

There is much to admire in this book, and I want to know where he will take the story next, particularly as many of his characters suffered 'cliff-hanger' endings. However, I feel that it could be much better if Harlan were more selective, so that readers don't lose sight of the basic thread of his plot. Prospective readers should begin with the first volume; there's too much complexity to pick up the story part way through. ~ Cherith Baldry, Vortex (UK) September 2000.

Persia has been conquered, but all is not well with the world. THE GATE OF FIRE follows THE SHADOW OF ARARAT in Thomas Harlan's Oath of Empire series. Galen, Roman Emperor of the West, returns home in triumph. His youngest brother, Maxian, continues his efforts to overcome the curse/blessing that preserves Rome at the cost of progress--only to learn that this curse is fully embedded in the body of Galen. His efforts to help Rome have led him to kill innocent people, betray his friends, and raise the dead. Finally, he must confront what he has become--and decide if he is worse than what he is fighting. Dahak, the great Persian wizard, works to raise the Persian Empire from the destruction into which Rome has thrust it. A new force, led by Mohammed, rejects both empires and marches on the Eastern Roman Empire.

Thomas Harlan has created a compelling and complex world. Multiple strands, in the Eastern Empire, Persia, Arabia, and Rome itself interweave and separate. Harlan's characters are complex and flawed. Dahak is certainly evil, but is he more evil than Maxian? The Eastern Empire betrayed its client state of Palmyra, but Mohammed and Zoë (heir-apparent to the Palmyrene throne) go beyond normal revenge in their desire to take revenge against it--especially when Dahak remains alive and powerful.

If anything, THE GATE OF FIRE is even more disturbing than THE SHADOW OF ARARAT. Before, mighty nations tore one another apart. Now, brother is set against brother, friend against friend. Sometimes betrayal is the only way to serve. This alternate history, in which magic works and Christianity never took hold, will capture the readers attention. : Three Stars. ~ Reviewed by Science Fiction section.

Thomas Harlan has constructed his ancient Rome in a magical world so real that I could almost believe he traveled to it. Gate of Fire (hard from TOR) is the second part (of four) of a sixth century Rome in which the western half not only survived, but prospered because of magic. The Shadow of Ararat (paper) told us how the Western Emperor went to help the Eastern Emperor in his war with the Persian Empire. Now, in the aftermath of that war, civilization slowly returns, friends become enemies, and a sorcerer begins his attempt at becoming ruler of the ruined Persian Empire. But most of the book tells us of the rise of Islam, and of a prince of Rome who is thwarted in his attempt at healing his home of an evil spell. I like the small touches here, the living vampires and the walking dead (risen by sorcery) such as Caesar and Alexander the Great. I'm looking forward to the continuation of this fun tale. I like being in the firm hands of a great storyteller. ~ Henry Lazarus, July 2000.

As Prince Maxian attempts desperate measures to free Rome from a powerful curse, his brother Galen, emperor of the Western Roman Empire, returns from the war with Persia to a trouble-filled city. In the East, a merchant prince known as Mohammed answers a divine call and gathers followers to his holy cause, while a sorcerer traffics in dark magics in pursuit of earthly power. Harlan's sequel to The Shadow of Ararat continues an epic tale of alternate history set in a seventh-century setting where the twin Empires of Rome rule the known world through might and magic. Strong storytelling and complex characters make this historical fantasy a good choice for most libraries. ~ Library Journal (Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.)

In the sequel to The Shadow of Ararat , promising fantasist Harlan handles his material rather like the director of an Indiana Jones-like action movie. The scene is an alternate Rome in which a sorcerer, Dahak, is in hiding, while Prince Maxian has resurrected Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great for the sake of saving Rome from both material and magical opponents. Meanwhile, rival sorcerer Dwyrin is going down to defeat, and Palmyra's Queen Zoe vows vengeance on Rome for destroying her homeland. And in Mecca, the exiled Palmyran Mohammed receives a vision and a command that will make him a potent force for good--or so he thinks. The book's grand total is two sorcerers, three queens, three or four prophets, three or four armies, and enough secondary characters and entities to require a cast list, which Harlan doesn't provide. This is, however, undeniably a page-turner, one infused with a feel for the historical that bodes well for its successors. ~ Roland Green, Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

There's no doubt about it: Thomas Harlan is a marvelous talespinner. In first novel The Shadow of Ararat, he handled a large cast of characters driven by diverse faiths, philosophies, and passions, through action spanning two empires - at once alternate history and a fantasy whose magic had elements of both advanced technology and grisly horror - all this with apparent ease. Book Two of what turns out to be ''The Oath of Empire'' series, The Gate of Fire, displays even more authorial chutzpah, with equally good results. Though this version of the world around 620 A.D. has never known Christianity and worships various gods, a stern monotheism is developing nonetheless, thanks to the man described in the book's Dramatis Personae as ''Mohammed, A Merchant Prince of Mekkah.'' (Yes, that Mohammed, and we'd call the place Mecca.) Harlan invests his unorthodox take on the founder of Islam with a combination of human emotion (vengeful fury after the murder of his daughter), ecstatic vision (messages from his One True God), and what may be a form of this world's primal magic, seen gleaming in his eyes: ''some blue-white flame that sparked and flared like a hammer in the forge.'' Neither hero nor villain, Mohammed makes his way through his world's tangle of politics and scheming, religion and sorcery, intent on his purpose. The same might be said of another character, who figured more prominently in the first book. Maxian Atreus, brother to the leader of the Western Roman Empire, is at once healer, scientist, and practitioner of the darker arts - all in the service of a good cause, as he sees it. In Ararat, he turned his
skills to the making of weapons for his brother's war with Persia. Now Maxian goes back to his original concern, the Oath of Empire, in his view a curse which has both preserved Rome as a place of majesty and power and kept it from needful change. When he discusses the Oath with two characters he has literally raised from the dead, Alexandros (Alexander the Great) is slow to grasp the power of abstract ideas, until Maxian cites the example of honor as something you can't see or touch, ''But it affects you, it affects me, and through us it affects all around us. So it is with the curse - this idea of an Empire of Rome - all fixed in its expression at the time of the Divine Augustus.'' This draws an indignant snort from Gaius (Julius Caesar), who scarcely views his successor as a divinity, or empire as anything to be shunned. Still, Maxian persists, until he's able to describe the concept which lies at the heart of Harlan's series and its forms of magic:

This is the core of the power of the Oath - the Empire that should exist lives in the minds of men, in their memories of the past and belief of how things should be. So are these lattices of form maintained, but then the Oath has the ability to seek out and destroy those who would change that fabric of memory. Too, it can exalt those who would reinforce or maintain these beliefs.... The Oath freezes the Empire in amber, a trapped fly with a beating heart.

The genesis of religions, the extraordinary power of abstractions - this is no lightweight material being dealt with. But Harlan manages to work it all into a complex tapestry of plotlines, filled with grand passions and spectacular events. The book's one true villain, Persian sorcerer Dahak, can conjure up some literally hair-raising atmospheric forces, and Maxian is no slouch himself. Both of them manage to make the dead walk, as lightning sizzles and thunder booms, and the author is clearly enjoying himself amidst the mayhem. While both philosophical conflict leading to war and splashy special effects might seem to emphasize supposedly ''masculine'' aspects of Harlan's world, he doesn't neglect its women. The spirit of feminism has an island sanctuary, home to its own warriors, philosophers, and other interesting personalities, some of whom go out into the world with plans to change it. And we see Maxian largely through the eyes of Krista, a slave who has become his genuinely loving companion yet also secretly opposes some of the more drastic measures he adopts in his quest to overcome the Oath. For all that I've discussed so far, I've barely managed to scratch the surface of this book, and the larger project it belongs to. Just the list of maps at the front can conjure up vast, exotic expanses - The Persian Empire, The Roman Empire, the cities of Petra, Constantinople, Roma Mater, and Hierosolyma (Jerusalem), all places Harlan vividly invokes. That last site may also give a clue to where the tale is headed. The Shadow of Ararat centered around the lovely, sophisticated city of Palmyra, destroyed in the course of war involving Romans, Persians, and others. The Gate of Fire investigates many consequences of that war - including even Mohammed's rejection of the two empires and their faiths. And toward the end of this book, a number of primary characters begin to turn their attention to what we'd call the Near East, in particular Hierosolyma. What's to come? Well, Volume Three will be The Storm of Heaven, and there may be more to follow. But this is no standard continuing fantasy series, endlessly recycling clichés. Thomas Harlan sinks his teeth into some very meaty subjects, and it's a pleasure to join him at the feast. ~ Faren Miller, Locus, May 2000

The Gate of Fire: Book Two of the Other Empire -- the vast, fantasy-epic sequel to Thomas Harlan's acclaimed debut, /The Shadow of Ararat/ (1999) -- tells a series of overlapping stories about war and sorcery. In capably lavish prose, Harlan describes Prince Maxian's plans to use Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar (whom he has resurrected from the dead) to free Rome from a curse; Dahak the sorcerer's plans to regain his past glory; Mecca's lieutenant Mohammed's battle against darkness; and other related events. But this is not a novel for newcomers; the complicated plot, profusion of characters and imprecisely described setting -- though no problem for Harlan enthusiasts -- will likely confuse those who haven't read the first installment. ~ Publisher's Weekly - May 1, 2000

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