The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
Gore Vidal's novel about the philosophy-student-turned-emperor whose determination to reverse the Christianization of the Roman empire nearly changed the course of history, is wonderfully entertaining.
Framed as Julian's autobiography and accompanied by querulous commentaries from two of his old teachers, the novel is set initially in the imperial court under the paranoid and homicidal Constantius II, then in the lecture halls of Athens, and finally amid the boredom and ambition of the upper echelons of the Roman army. In a world governed by superstition and intolerance, the enthusiasm Julian brings to his role is enormously attractive.
We know how it's all going to end, of course. There are enemies all around him, including, unwittingly, those who are most determined that he should succeed. Julian makes the mistake of believing in his own destiny and over-reaches himself. But what matters for Vidal is the light he throws on everything that surrounds him. Like a dying star, Julian flares up brilliantly. Afterwards, there is only darkness.