Vann Turner’s: To Forestall the Darkness

Must Read IconIf you follow my reviews, then you know that I love historical fiction. That being said, it is rare that I find a historical fiction book that diverges from a few of the genre’s archetypes. Vann Turner’s new novel To Forestall the Darkness, the first book in The Tribonian Trilogy,was a breath of fresh air. The story is set in sixth-century Rome, which, for those who are unfamiliar with the time and area’s history, is just before the onset of the Dark Ages, a time when culture, technological advances, and religious/political growth in Europe screeched to a halt, except for a few select philosophers and theologians. This story follows Titus Tribonius, a gastaldus for King Autari, a political post that gives Titus civil, martial, and judicial powers…normally. Rome has been largely controlled by the Lombards, a Germanic faction that swept in and began dominating all aspects of Roman life. The sixth century saw a clash between cultures when Northerners in Europe began to move South. Along with the sudden introduction of a completely different political mindset came a meshing of religions. Christianity had gained considerable influence in Rome, Roman paganism was often treated as heretical by the ruling Lombards, especially for a government official, and even Norse beliefs found a foothold, often being meshed with Christianity (especially in religious symbolism). This massive, turbulent melting pot is the city in which Titus finds himself trapped. As a Roman, he has no real power. Still, a plot by a secret alliance has caused infighting between Dukes, and even the King is in danger. Somehow, Titus must make sure his home is spared the fate that many territories under Lombardic control suffer, and in the process he must fight for the survival of the Roman people, as a whole.

Turner has chosen his setting well. The characters are vibrant, yet beautifully, terribly realistic. The Rome that is created in this book teems with life, yet there is always an unsettling undertone. Even when the violence and conspiracy is put on the back burner for a few minutes and city life seems to be normal, the unease is almost palpable. The character of Titus is almost certainly Turner’s greatest accomplishment in this book. Wealthy, educated, and well-known, Titus should be a powerhouse in the city’s politics. Instead, our hero is tired: tired of watching the Lombards oppress his people and, more importantly, tired of not being able to lift a finger to stop it. Titus is, above all else, human. He is a prime example of what happens when a good man becomes a politician to cause change, yet is put in a purely symbolic position. Titus is the last man between humanity and the Dark Ages, and he sees no way to keep barbarism from taking his beloved Rome. This outlook is what makes Titus so entrancing a character, as well as what proves that Turner is an excellent writer and storyteller. Titus is not hopeful. He stands up because he feels he must, not because he thinks he has any semblance of a chance of success. I am anxiously awaiting his return in the series’ next entry.

If you find history to be boring, I won’t lie, this book probably isn’t for you. Similar to Dan Brown (though not making nearly as many fictional leaps), Turner grounds his story in an intensely historical background. Thankfully, Turner accounted for the sheer magnitude of historical backdrop for those who are unfamiliar, as the back of the book contains just about any references you will need that aren’t provided by context. Despite the detail woven into the story, it is never a dry read, as the mystery, violence, and betrayal will almost assuredly keep eyes glued to the page and the pages turning. I honestly can’t think of anything this book won’t have to keep adult readers of various genres hooked. Even if you are the kind of reader who finds history boring, I still challenge you to read Vann Turner’s To Forestall the Darkness. It has mystery, drama, some dark humor, and may just change your mind on historical fiction. To everyone else, I hope you love the book as much as I did. I know I will be picking up the next entry in the series when it comes out.

Source: Jake Depew, Assistant Editor

Jefferson Farmers Co-op 08112014