Dawn of Empire by Sam Barone

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Dawn of Empire by Sam Barone

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Dawn of Empire is a highly entertaining epic about the early beginnings of agriculture and the city state. It's a real page turner and its an interesting, yet relatively unexplored subject. The sex is awful, but that's its only fault.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 496 Date: January 2007
Publisher: Century
ISBN: 978-1846050503

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In Dawn of Empire, Sam Barone takes a relatively unexplored period of ancient history, and weaves a fabulous page turner around it. It's the third century BC in the Tigris valley, and the earliest farmers are beginning to establish co-operative agricultural settlements with farms clustered around villages. Trade lines are beginning to spring up and humans are learning ways in which to make their lives easier. However, this new culture finds itself in conflict with the old culture of the nomadic peoples of the steppes. These barbarian warriors abhor the "dirt-eaters" and rely upon them for food, horses and slaves. They cannot allow any village to become too big or too strong for such a village would threaten their way of life. Of course, the villages did eventually become too big and too strong. They eventually developed ways to defend themselves, built the first walled cities, and provided the foundations for one of the world's first empires - the Akkadian Empire led by Sargon.

This story of these earliest beginnings of civilisation is told in Dawn of Empire through the village of Orak, which has become large and successful, only to be threatened by the ten yearly migration of the Alur Meriki, a barbarian tribe sworn to destroy it. The village leader appoints Eskkar, a soldier and exiled Alur Meriki, to find a way to defend Orak. Eskkar hits upon the revolutionary idea of constructing a wall around the village and, together with his slave-lover Trella, sets about the strategic planning and diplomacy required.

It's all great stuff and a real ripping yarn, made all the more interesting for being about an aspect of the past not yet done to death by writers of the historical epic. Barone gets across this clash of cultures wonderfully well, without resorting to making one side all that is virtuous and the other all that is evil. It also explores the way in which just a few charismatic people can turn the fortunes of the many more who choose to follow them.

There's just one tiny drawback to Dawn of Empire, and that's the sex. Why writers of epic novels, historical or otherwise, can't just have their characters close the door on the reader before zipping off for some hot bedroom action, I just don't know. It would be far more erotic. Instead, we get "breast-cupping", "hardness", "loins", "moaning" and "entering" and it isn't erotic at all. There's nothing in Dawn of Empire that's dreadful enough to get it a bad sex award nomination, thankfully, but I just wish it wasn't there. According to my extensive research, there are about three people in the entire world who can write about glorious sex successfully, and Sam Barone, unsurprisingly, isn't one of them. Writers need to realise that glorious sex is the glorious sex you're either doing or imagining privately, not the glorious sex someone else has imagined for you and described in cliches. Happily, though, there isn't that much of it, and the equal relationship between Eskkar and Trella, almost unheard of in those times, is treated very well. It doesn't appear in the least anachronistic.

I did enjoy Dawn of Empire. It's a light read but an interesting one, and it's a real page-turner. I read all 500 or so pages in just a couple of evenings. It's commendably fast-paced and well-structured, given that all those pages are given over over to a six month preparation for a siege. It's also impeccably researched and the characters, if a little two-dimensional, do appear as people of their time. And what a great idea for a book - the birth of the first walled city.

I'll definitely read the sequel.

Thanks to the publisher, Random House, for sending the book.

Buy Dawn of Empire by Sam Barone at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dawn of Empire by Sam Barone at Amazon.co.uk

Buy Dawn of Empire by Sam Barone at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dawn of Empire by Sam Barone at Amazon.com.


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Magda said:

Breast cupping gets on my tits too. Truly. But as Sue rightly noticed, it's absolutely necessary, especially for some reason in historical fiction.

Who are they (those people who can write about sex)?

Jill said:

My extensive research amounts to me extrapolating a figure of three from the fact that I've read a gazillion books and haven't found any yet.

ikasekas said:

I read this book and i found it a bit of a waste of time! The historical references of tools culture and life style can only be considered poor, it reminded me more of a nordic rampage rather then early Mesopotiamian tale.