An Emperor for the Legion
Cover by Romas


by Harry Turtledove

Del Rey


322pp/$3.95/May 1987

Videssos Cycle, Volume I
Cover by Steven Youll

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In An Emperor for the Legion, Harry Turtledove picks up exactly where the action ended in The Misplaced Legion. Following the disastrous battle of Maragha, the Videssian forces are is disarray as they flee before the savage Yezdi, led by the sorcerous Avshar. In addition to escaping from the killed fields of Maragha, Marcus Scaurus and his Roman legion are trying to get back to the safety of Videssos.

Even retreat, however, is fraught with peril. Yezdi, bandits, angry villagers, and disgruntled scouts all pose dangers. When new comes that both Thorisin Gavras, the brother of Mavrikios' the late Emperor, and Ortaias Sphrantzes, the nephew of an earlier imperial line have both declared themselves Emperor, the Romans must decide which side they will support in the Civil War, or if they should turn their backs on the imperial gold that has paid for their loyalty since their arrival.

With the Yezdi a constant threat in the background, the focus of An Emperor for the Legion is on the various factions of the Civil War, along with the treachery that goes along with it. Neither Thorisin nor Ortaias can trust anyone implicitly, whether it is Mavrikios' friend Baanes Onomagoulos, admiral Taron Leimmokhier, General Rhavas, or Marcus Scaurus, himself. Even those who appear most loyal to one of the warring Emperors can suddenly turn coat if the money or power offered by the other side seems to be good. Marcus, who prides himself on being straightforward, has difficulty in seeing the byzantine plots that are circling around him, more comfortable with the straightforward language of his gladius or even the tedium of tax scrolls.

Turtledove handles the situations well, balancing Marcus's official duties with the legion and for Thorisin with his domestic life. His Namdalener wife Helvis and his stepson and son are trying to build a family, even as they face Helvis's desire to return to Namdalen and raise her children in her own traditions. Their backgrounds and differences in religious beliefs (or non-beliefs) add to their strife. Turtedove also lays groundwork for potential future difficulties as Marcus demonstrates infidelity as well as a growing relationship with the Emperor's niece, Alypia Gavra, herself a betrayer of her uncle through her marriage to Ortaias Sphrantzes.

Foremost among the chores for Marcus is his need to keep his Romans together, and to teach the Videssians brought in to fill their ranks to follow Roman custom. Having spent multiple years in Videssos, however, has provided opportunity for all the Romans to develop attachments to Videssians, Namdaleners, Halogai, and others, giving them divided loyalties and laying the groundwork for future difficulties.

An Emperor for the Legion takes place off stage, the siege of Videssos and the Battle of the Seawall notwithstanding. Reports of Yezdi incursions filter into the novel only sporadically, and the rebellious barons also engage the Videssian troops off the page. However, showing life in the capital, relatively untouched by the violence being visited on the far flung holdings of the Empire provides a different, and interesting view of the culture of Videssos, even as Turtledove lays groundwork for additional battles and non-military adventures for the Legion, if Scaurus can keep the troops together.

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