Genre: Science Fiction/Alternative History
Setting: Roman Britain
No. of pages:
Part of a series: Yes, 1st book in Time's Tapestry Quartet.
Next book: Conqueror
A woman going through a difficult birth starts uttering words in latin, a language she doesn't know. It is a prophecy, a prophecy that will echo down the centuries...
This book is set mostly in Roman Britain, from before the Romans came to Britain to the fall of Rome. The book is made up of several different sections, each focusing on a different generation from the same family line, spanning several hundred years. It is the story of a family and their prophecy, and how that links in with the fate of Rome and Britain. The early beginnings of Christianity is also one of the themes in the book. I particularly like the part where a stone mason convinces Emperoer Hadrian to build his great wall out of stone, and not mounds of turf. Enlightened sel interest I think!
The book is well written, and as well as being a good story gives an interesting insight into Roman Britain. It's supposed to be part of an alternative history series, but as far as I can tell so far it sticks fairly closely to accepted Roman history, so I learned a lot about the changing fortunes of the Roman Empire and of Britain over several centuries.
If I was to level a criticism at the book, it would be that the different sections of the book, each separated by many decades at least and featuring different characters, struggle to form a strong overall narrative. Each section is good on it's own but the link is sometimes a tenuous one between each set of characters.
This review is also being posted on librarything.com
A long time ago I wrote down the names of the 'Weaver' series though I never saw them in the shops, so I was delighted when I saw the first three books in the local library. The books are: 'Emperor', 'Conqueror', 'Navigator' and 'Weaver'.
'Emperor' follows the fortunes of one family living under Roman rule in Britain. A woman in childbirth starts screaming out words none of her family except one, who (luckily) knows Latin and records it. The mystery is how this woman, who was uneducated, could suddenly know Latin. In time the words are recognised as being a prophecy. The future generations of the child born during the prophecy are followed, including a plan to assassinate an emperor in trying to follow the prophecy.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I liked the idea of getting to read historical fiction but with a sf twist because of the prophecy. Also, I do not usually like writers using real people from history and this is what happens with the emperor, but it was a while before I realized that I did actually like that, because the character was so realistic. However the Latin names of the British cities were somewhat confusing and I had to continually refer to the map to see what they were (and where they were) but after a while I began to remember the Latin names. What was rather confusing was the switch between hundreds of years to complete strangers. In a page or so who they are is explained, but until then it is guesswork, hoping they will soon be explained.
I liked the three books I read at the library enough to buy them at full price (and so it made me rather sick to see them for sale at £1 each, brand new, in a shop in Hay-on-Wye!) but when reading other reviews I saw that these books are described as being counter-factual, which means, I think, that some of the events described in the books (independent of the prophecy) might never have happened. That disappointed me somewhat because I thought reading these books would be a simple way of learning something about the history of the Romans in Britain!
I am a lover of reading and like to read novels set in different periods of Englands history. I brought Emperor because the front cover appealed to me and this is a perfect example of why you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.
Emperor is set in 3 different ancient periods. The first is around 34 AD where a man called Nectovelin is carrying a prophecy through the ancient villages and tribes of the UK. The prophecy was uttered in Latin by his mother when she was having a difficult and painful labour who soon after died giving birth to him, it was special because his mother had never even heard Latin let alone learned to speak it. He has great faith in the prophecy and lives his life by its words. He and his young cousin Agrippina survive the Roman invasion of England only for him to be killed later and the prophecy taken by then Emperor Claudius. Time then skips on a couple of hundred years to the time of Hadrian. He is in the process of deciding whether to build his now famous wall and a local stone mason is approached by a very distant relative of Nectovelin who claimed she would help him make his fortune by providing stone for all the wall. Brigonius never quite trusts this woman and she is now in possession of the prophecy and sees a way to higher her status in the Roman empire. She is ruthless and uses her daughters affections for men to her advantage and encourages her to be passionate with men that can help further her. She is eventually found to be conspiring against the Emperor and is thrown into slavery along with her son and grandchildren.
Forward again for the 3rd and final time and it is now 400 AD. A slave boy is brought out of his miserable existance down the mines. He has strange markings on his back and when a distant relative finds him (yes the pattern is that obvious) he soon realises that he has had a shortened version of the prophecy tattooed on his back. He is 14 and was born into slavery so is illiterate but the prophecy has been passed through the slave generations in the hope that eventually someone will be able to make sense of it. Constantine is Emperor then and when a woman completely misinterprets the meaning of the prophecy a disaster is avoided by the quick thinking of the slave boy.
In 2 paragraphs I have just told you what Stephen Baxter said in 300 pages. I don't think the story was strong enough to fill a whole book and the book had no excitement. The story of the ancient prophecy was a good one but even though there were little substorys going on in the background there was nothing keep me interested for long. Each segment of the story is spread over about 50 years and I thought this was too big a time frame to be shortened into 100 pages. There did not seem to be enough balance for me because the segments were set so many generations apart that it was confusing and then a whole generation and more were condensed into practically nothing.
I liked all of the characters in the book and even the ones who were out to do wrong were likeable and I could sympathise with their strange beliefs. I don't know how true to the time the characters are as I am not an expert in Roman history but I didn't get much of a sense of the ancient culture from this book. I don't think the author explored the period enough and wasted a lot of time making very general statements about Roman dress and arcitecture but does not say a lot about how life was under Roman rule. It was quite hard reading sometimes because it took a long time for me to stop seeing the Uk as Liverpool, York, London and start remembering that this book is set in the times of Rutupiae (Richborough) and Banna (Birdoswold). I cannot blame Stephen Baxter for this and he gave me a little glossary of the ancient settlements that were in some of the modern day citys. I was forever flicking to this glossary though and I started to wish it wasn't there.
Through the book is also a thread about how Christianity flourished at this time in history. It is lacking in detail and conflicts with other factual books I have read about the years following Christs death. Even so I thought this was interesting and it was nice to read about how the new religion spread through England. There is also a strong army theme through Emperor and even though I don't usually like books that focus too much on wars I thought this was interesting to read and helped me to make sense of how the Roman army worked its way across the world.
Idid get bored reading Emperor and I think this is because even though Stephen Baxter didn't educate me in facts he over described a lot of the book. It was annoying because he would describe the setting of a conversation that had no bearing on the story and then gloss over in 1/2 a page an important point that would help me to make sense of it. It took me until well into the 100th page to get into the book and even then I was going to give up on it a few times. The only thing that kept me reading sometimes was because i thought it was interesting to see how each generation read the prophecy differently and how it always came back to the Emperor.
If you like lots of twists and turns in a story then this probably won't be interesting enough for you because I thought it was quite predictable and there wasn't many surprises. I would have liked more suspense and I think I remember reading something by Stephen Baxter before and giving up on it because I could not get into the story. Emperor is a good book but I think there are better out there set in both BC and AD, I don't think you will learn anything much from this and the story could be stronger.
I brought mine from Ebay and it cost £2.05 with the postage. I think this is fair for this book or even better borrow it from the library because you might not like it and it is selling brand new for £6. 99 from Smiths but I don't think it is worth that unless you have a very good interest in Roman times.
A woman gives birth to her child in a village in Northern England, the cold northern edge of the Roman Empire. As she struggles through a painful labour she begins to scream out a series of words in Latin. A language she has never heard before, much less spoken. One of the family recognises the words for what they are. Only later does it become clear that the women has spoken a prophecy. A prophecy that relates to the death of the Emperor Constantine/ A prophecy that if enacted will change the fate of the Roman Empire and all of the future beyond it. Stephen Baxter's new series takes ordinary individuals living at history's tipping points and presents them with a prophecy that challenges everything they believe about their world and prompts them to take action that could change it forever. The fourth volume reveals the nature of the prophecies and reveals a battle that has been fought through the ages.