After more than four hundred years of Roman rule, the island its conquerors called Britannia was abandoned-left to its own devices as the Roman empire contracted in a futile effort to defend itself from the barbarian hordes encroaching upon its heart. As Britannia falls into anarchy and the city of Viroconium is left undefended, two cousins who remained behind when the imperial forces withdrew pursue very different courses in the ensuing struggle to unite the disparate tribes and factions throughout the land.
In Morgan Llywelyn's stunning medieval novel After Rome, passionate, adventurous Dinas recruits followers and dreams of kingship. Thoughtful Cadogan saves a group of citizens when Saxons invade and burn Viroconium, then becomes the reluctant founder and leader of a new community that rises in the wilderness. The two cousins could not be more different, but their parallel stories encapsulate the era of a new civilization struggling to be born in the Middle Ages.
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Irish author Llywelyn (The Horse Goddess) presents an exceptional novel of 5th century Brittania, weaving impressive historical detail with enlightened and evolving characters. In C.E. 410, the Roman army deserted Brittania (modern-day Great Britain), leaving behind an organized central government, educated elite, and a culture that mimicked Roman fashion, food, architecture, and education. However, many of post-Roman Brittania's civil servants had only "a veneer of Latin sophistication" to go with a Celt's "impetuous temperament." They struggled to govern without Roman leadership; violent Saxon warriors, Picts, and Scoti took advantage of the leadership vacuum, resulting in lawlessness, violence, and death. Llywelyn's narrative follows dissimilar cousins, Cadogan and Dinas, brave, resolute men transformed by hardships caused by larger historical forces. Each man seeks freedom and order within a collapsed society. Cadogan, thoughtful and steady, becomes a reluctant leader with "unasked-for responsibilities," shepherding urban refugees to the forest after their town was burned by Saxons. Rootless Dinas, ambitious and passionate, is a "eader, warlord, wild man," who recruits his own warriors; he dreams of kingship, but becomes a pirate and mercenary. Llywelyn's fine treatment is a tribute to man's survival, personal growth, and resilience in the face of anarchy.