cover image Etruscans


Morgan Llywelyn, Michael Scott. Tor Books, $24.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86627-3

In this sturdy historical fantasy novel, Llywelyn, best known as a fictional chronicler of Irish history (1916, etc.), and U.K. anthologist Scott turn their attention to the legendary Roman hero Horatius (he of the last stand at the bridge). The book's premise is that gods and humans are mutually dependent on one another and shaped by one another's ambitions and feuds. A demon who's the incarnation of the builder of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one Bur-Sin, is fleeing the wrath of the serpent-goddess Pythia. In his flight, he impregnates Vasi, an Etruscan maiden. Etruscan law obliges Vasi and her mother to flee, but they have enough help, both natural and otherwise, to make their escape and safely deliver Vasi's son, Horatrim, who is then given abundant gifts by the gods and ancestral spirits. Unfortunately, the existence of the son will allow Pythia to follow Bur-Sin's trail and wreak her vengeance, so as the boy grows to manhood, the demon desperately pursues him. Eventually, one Horatius Cocles has to travel into the underworld with the shade of an Etruscan ruler and rescue his mother and a prostitute named Justine from the demon, who is now incarnated in the Etruscan prince Lars Porsena of Clusium. The authors' portrayal of an obscure time and place is convincing if uninspired. Horatius grows persuasively as a character as well as in age, however, and the final sequence in the underworld is well up to Llywelyn's usual vivid standard. (May)