Normally in the booklog world, when someone fails to update their page for a month, it's because they've gotten lazy about recording their books. In my case, it's because I simply didn't read any. Partly this is because I've been a bit busy getting unemployed, trying to get re-employed, buying a house, prepping for a wedding, and prepping for a move. Partly, it's because I started to read a very long book, and got bogged down in the middle.

The book in question is the second volume of Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, one of the longest and most involved epic fantasy trilogies in the entire genre. The second volume alone weighs in at a massive 1000+ pages and spans hundreds of years of history.

The trilogy is set in the waning years of an ancient, continent-spanning empire based closely on our world's Rome. I'm normally reluctant to give away plot points, but given the title, I think it will come as no surprise when I say that the series traces this empire as it loses its strength and power, and eventually collapses.

As I said above, I got bogged down in the middle of this volume, but that shouldn't be read as criticism. The book is action-packed, well-paced, peopled with interesting characters, and stylistically brilliant. Consider the following excerpt, wherein ambassadors of Rome are sent out to negotiate with the Gothic conqueror Alaric:

When they were introduced into his presence, they declared, perhaps in a more lofty style than became their abject condition, that the Romans were resolved to maintain their dignity, either in peace or war; and that, if Alaric refused them a fair and honorable capitulation, he might sound his trumpets, and prepare to give battle to an innumerable people, exercised in arms, and animated by despair. “The thicker the hay, the easier it is mowed,” was the concise reply of the Barbarian; and this rustic metaphor was accompanied by a loud and insulting laugh, expressive of his contempt for the menaces of an unwarlike populace, enervated by luxury before they were emaciated by famine. He then condescended to fix the ransom, which he would accept as the price of his retreat from the walls of Rome: all the gold and silver in the city, whether it were the property of the state, or of individuals; all the rich and precious movables; and all the slaves that could prove their title to the name of Barbarians. The ministers of the senate presumed to ask, in a modest and suppliant tone, “If such, O king, are your demands, what do you intend to leave us?” “Your Lives!” replied the haughty conqueror: they trembled, and retired.

I do have a few criticisms. For one, the world-building is unoriginal; it's undoubtedly solid, with concrete and believable details, but it's too obviously ripped straight from real history. For another, there are too many characters: As soon as you really get to know a character, and are familiar with his character and station, he goes and dies (Martin has nothing on Gibbon when it comes to willingness to kill his characters). This is probably inevitable in any novel with the kind of historical scope this book has, though—unless your characters are immortals, you're going to go through a lot of characters over the course of centuries.

Those complaints aside, this is a superb book, and I fully intend to come back and finish it eventually; but for now, I'm ready to move on to something else.


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