The Son of Heaven

The Son of Heaven by Philip Boast. Only through the efforts of interlibrary loan was I able to find the second book in Boast’s series featuring Septimus Severus Quistus during the tumultuous days of Rome under Nero in the middle first century, but the extra effort was definitely worth it. Boast’s introduction of Quistus in “The Third Princess” took his hero to the western edge of the Empire and Britain, whereas this adventure heads east, all the way to China. The Asian imperial family is having problems of their own and the favored Prince Zhang, only twelve-years-old, has fled secretly through Greece to Rome in an attempt to avoid the assassins hired by his rivals to the crown. However, a traitor still lurks within his entourage and so he must resort to asking for assistance from a “barbaric” Roman to uncover his enemy. Zhang finds Quistus in disgrace, his name all but erased by the Emperor, but he agrees to help the prince. Nero, fearing that the unrest to the east will eventually lead to an invasion of Roman territory, recognizes that, despite his enmity for the man, he also needs Quistus and reluctantly sends him to guide the Chinese prince back to the safety of his father’s capital city. Standing in their way is a Hun army and pursuing them are the Golden Head assassins.

Some may feel that the two stories are too similar as Quistus’s first mission for Nero was to guard the Christian princess Claudia on a peacekeeping journey to Britain. However, the details of each adventure are different and Boast does an excellent job keeping the pace of the story quite high and the variety of secondary characters, both Roman and Chinese, is also good. The interaction between the representatives of the two largest and vastly different empires in the world at that time also adds to the uniqueness of the book. Unfortunately, I had a strong inkling early on as to the traitor’s identity, which lessened the suspense level, but the danger the traveling group faces as they make their way across the miles and the creative ways that Quistus escapes every trap compensated for this flaw.

For another mystery featuring a Roman-Chinese combination, I recommend Paul Doherty’sThe Plague Lord,” set in China during the 13th century when Marco Polo was visiting the court of Kublai Khan.

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