There is a series airing on PBS right now called “Filthy Cities of the World.” After watching a couple of installments and coming away with nothing but a few interesting historical facts and a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, I stopped watching. But there are some people who enjoy this sort of thing, and Sol Limitis is for them.
This novel is historical fiction. The hero, Atellus, is probably based on the representative the Emperor Valentinian sent to Britain to investigate the Great Conspiracy, an alliance of barbarian tribes that threatened Roman power in the whole island in 367 AD. The story chronicles his attempts to find out what is going on around Hadrian’s Wall, and to sort through the nets of treachery, perfidy, and treason that interlace the wintry countryside.
His main technique for accomplishing this aim is to get into innumerable fights, which he always loses. No matter how bloody the brawl and how many people are killed, he invariably ends up knocked unconscious. From which he awakens in the next chapter to stagger on into further treachery. And that pretty much sums up the plot.
The main strength of this author’s writing is in description and creation of atmosphere. Unfortunately, it is far too much of a good thing. As you read, you start with admiration at the depth and intensity of the mood. After you have endured several chapters of cold, snow, poverty, and violence, you begin to feel rather overwhelmed. When the cold, depravity, and filth continue for more chapters and very little happens except fights, brawls and rapes, you begin to wonder.
And after a long while, when you pass the fourth child freezing to death in the snow and wade once more through the filth and stench of yet another unrecognizable northern town, you realize that this writing is basically pornography of violence. Every element of the story: plot, characters, conflict, is there only as an excuse for the description of violence, depravity, treachery, poverty, filth, disease, (did I say cold?) rape, murder, and violence (perhaps I mentioned that) and innumerable coils of purple guts spewing across the snow.
Besides this great imbalance the writing is fairly strong, although it would benefit from one further proofread. I did find the use of Latin words and phrases to be a bit over the top, to the point of obscuring the meaning of the story at times. This writer has definitely done his research.
Recommended only for those who like their historical fiction hyper-realistic.
4 stars out of 5