March 04, 2005

The Misplaced Legion, by Harry Turtledove

This is one of Turtledove's early books, dating back to 1987, and one of the first of his works to appear under his own name; prior to this, he'd written mostly short fiction under the name Eric G. Iverson. These days Turtledove's best known for his novels of alternate history; this is something similar, yet not quite the same.

Marcus Scaurus is the commander of a Roman legion fighting under Julius Caesar in Gaul. During a battle with the leader of a Gaulish troop, druid magic sends Scaurus and his legion (and his opponent) to another world, a world almost impossibly strange, to a place called the Empire of Videssos. Videssos is what we'd think of as a proper empire, ruled by an emperor and controlling vast regions; the Roman empire Scaurus knew was still ruled by the Roman Senate in the name of the Senate and People of Rome. Moreover, Videssos is an empire of long standing, and its court protocols and politics are singularly convolute. The people of Videssos and most of the surrounding countries worship a single god named Phos, though in slightly different ways from country to country, which leads to a fair amount of strife; Scaurus and his men naturally worship the gods of Rome.

Has the penny dropped yet? That's right, The Misplaced Legion is really about what the Byzantine Empire, an empire which still called itself Roman, would look like to a Roman of Caesar's day. And the answer, like nothing on earth. Oh, Turtledove's dressed it up a bit. Persia is to the west of Constantinople--excuse me, Videssos the City--instead of to the east; there's no analogue of Rome, Videssos the City has always been the capital of Videssos the Empire; the religion is roughly Zoroastrian instead of Christian; all the names have been changed, except they mostly sound like Greek anyway. Oh, and there's magic; and since the dominant religion is Zoroastrian with the Videssians as the followers of Ahura Mazda, naturally the bad guys are wicked as all get out and worship Ahura Mazda's opposite, the loathsome Ahriman. Though of course, they call him Skotos instead, just like they call Ahura Mazda Phos. This is called poetic license, I suppose.

Anyway, it's an OK book, if not quite as good as I remembered; there are three more in the immediate series, plus some spin-offs, and no doubt I'll get to all of them again in time.

Posted by Will Duquette at March 4, 2005 09:01 PM