Thomas Harlan, . . Tor, $27.95 (558pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86559-7

In Campbell Award nominee Harlan's third, grittily realistic installation of the Oath of Empire series (Shadow of Ararat and The Gate of Fire), imperial Rome under Emperor Galen is simultaneously in the midst of war with Persia and fighting a new and God-aided battle against the forces of Mohammed the prophet, while the magical protective "Oath" is in danger of shattering. Prince Maxian has, until now, been trying to break the oath laid on Rome in the hope of helping the Western Empire. To his dismay, he learns that he has been deceived by powerful magic and is actually bringing about the empire's defeat. In an abrupt about-face, he recants the path of evil to find a way to strengthen the oath. In the meantime, the two men Prince Maxian raised from the dead, Gaius Julius Caesar and Alexandros of Macedonia (Alexander the Great), are using their skills to Rome's advantage. Alexander starts to build an army to aid the west, while Gaius Julius schemes his way into the inner circles of Roman power. This is an epic novel, with lots of power-mongering, glorious battles and the fate of the Roman Empire squarely at the center. Some series books can be picked up easily—this is not one of them. Regardless of the introduction, the plot is so diverse and the characters so numerous that reading the two earlier books is a must. Harlan portrays the ancient Roman world in exquisite detail; the battle scenes in particular are so vivid you can almost taste the blood and dust. (June 1)