Empire in Apocalypse

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
452 Pages
Reviewed on 10/27/2023
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    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

Empire in Apocalypse is a work of fiction in the ancient historical, interpersonal drama, and intrigue subgenres. It is best suited to the general adult reading audience, contains moderate scenes of historical violence, and was penned by author Robert Bruton. This captivating historical account delves into the turbulent period of the Eastern Roman Empire at the end of the fifth century. As the empire faced existential threats from multiple fronts and grappled with the aftermath of barbarian invasions that had already toppled the Western Empire, the narrative focuses on two remarkable figures: Emperor Justinian and General Belisarius, along with their equally remarkable wives.

Author Robert Bruton has crafted an immersive and engaging historical work that truly highlights the challenges these individuals faced at their unique point in human history, painting a vivid picture of a world in transition. I was also absolutely fascinated to see how a climate catastrophe devastated the empire, transforming it into a wasteland, and how the world's first global pandemic further complicated their efforts to revive their beloved domain. What sets this novel apart is its exploration of both the grand political and military maneuvers and the intimate intrigues of love and court life that unfolded amidst these apocalyptic times. It offers readers a comprehensive view of this critical period in history, providing insight into the complex personalities and dynamics that shaped the fate of an empire. Overall, Empire in Apocalypse is a compelling narrative that brings history to life, offering a rich and immersive reading experience for those interested in the late Roman Empire and the individuals who strove to save it from the brink of collapse.

Philip Zozzaro

In the year 534 A.D., Justinian is emperor of the Byzantine Empire. Nearly 60 years removed from the fall of Rome, Justinian relies on men like Flavius Belisarius to help preserve his kingdom. The world these two men inhabit is growing increasingly fragile as earthquakes and volcanoes wreak destruction alongside the carnage caused by the groups seeking to overthrow Justinian’s empire. “The object of conquest is to avoid doing the same thing as the conquered,” is a prescient quote offered by Alexander the Great and applies to Belisarius’ soldiers along with their enemies. Belisarius is beset with multiple problems, from a campaign to retake Italy to rumors of his wife’s infidelity. His leadership is questioned by an ambitious underling and the enemy forces far surpass his own. When news of a looming apocalypse arrives from St. Brendan, Belisarius can only take it in his stride with everything else.

Empire in Apocalypse is dynamic historical fiction that delves into a turbulent period of time spanning eight years when the Eastern half of the Roman Empire was in a precarious situation. The author sows the seeds of a fascinating narrative at its onset as Flavius Belisarius’ mind and heart are divided between his duty as a soldier and his role as a husband. The creeping doubt about his wife Antonina’s fidelity threatens his sanity, particularly as Antonina shamelessly gaslights him. The relationships between Beliarius and Antonina and Justinian and his wife Theodora highlight many fascinating aspects of the book. The women who populate this book are as equally if not more compelling than the men. Author Robert Bruton has written a brilliant novel brimming with themes of love, lust, war, and revenge that delivers in every way.

Grant Leishman

Empire in Apocalypse by Robert Bruton is a breathtakingly expansive look at the Roman Empire after the fall of Rome and the Western Empire. In the fifth century A.D., Rome had fallen to the barbarians; the Goths, the Visigoths, the Franks, and the Vandals. Western Europe was crumbling. Yet, in Constantinople, the Eastern Roman Empire stood proud and resolute under Emperor Justinian. When Justinian orders his most famous military leader, General Belisarius, to retake Sicily and eventually Rome and the rest of the original empire for the Romans, he is determined to bring his unique skills and strategy to bear, often against overwhelming numerical odds. In the Eastern Roman Empire, two incredibly powerful women were both an immense help and a massive hindrance to their respective husbands. General Belisarius’ wife, Antonina, often traveled with her husband on various campaigns and was an excellent source of advice and strategy for the general. However, her well-known affair with their godson, Theodosius, was a constant source of embarrassment to the general who loved her deeply. Similarly, Justinian’s wife Theodora, as empress, wielded more power and influence within the court than a woman would normally have been accorded. Justinian’s attempt to rebuild the Roman Empire would founder on the multiple prongs of drought, famine, plague, and pestilence; indeed, for many, a time truly seen as apocalyptic and signaling the end of the world.

Empire in Apocalypse is a beautifully crafted and detailed novel of the life and times of fifth-century Europe. Author Robert Bruton has skillfully taken history and woven a many-faceted tale around the major participants of the time. I particularly enjoyed the palace intrigue and the, at times, devious manipulations of the women in Belisarius' and Justinian’s lives to achieve their desired outcomes. The author gives a frighteningly candid description of the brutality of the era and his descriptions of the utter desolation and hopelessness of the plagued city will linger. His observation toward the end of the story of the family standing on top of the aqueduct summed up this feeling perfectly and succinctly. The brutality of the torture chamber faced by Macedonia and others is vividly conveyed to the reader. What I did enjoy was the counterpoint achieved in the narrative between the action, horror, and brutality of war with the compassion, love, and relationships of the participants. Belisarius was an incredibly successful warmonger for his emperor but he was also a devoted husband and a loving father, and could display great compassion to both civilians caught up in the conflict and even toward his enemy. This is a towering, sweeping opus that illuminates a dark period in human history and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I can highly recommend this book.

Jamie Michele

Empire in Apocalypse by Robert Bruton is the second book in the historical fiction Double-Edged Sword series, preceded by book one, Empire Resurgent. Book one begins in 530 A.D., when Rome defeats the Persians with General Flavius Belisarius, a hero of the Eastern Roman Empire during the reign of Emperor Justinian, at its helm. Belisarius maintains his military dominance, freeing Constantinople and regaining North African territory. However, his reputation is damaged when his wife, Antonina, betrays him. Under the rule of Emperor Justinian, the Eastern Roman Empire still faces difficulties in Book 2. Belisarius leads successful battles against the Persians, Vandals, and Goths, but he is later called back after refusing to swear loyalty to Empress Theodora during the epidemic of the plague. Back in Constantinople, he faces false treason charges, and the fallout from Antonina's actions continues to unravel.

I live in London within walking distance of the Roman Wall of Londinium, and, paired with a mild to moderate love of historical fiction that lands itself in ancient Rome, Empire in Apocalypse by Robert Bruton was a perfect fit for me. Admitting that my knowledge of Belisarius is embarrassingly sparse, Bruton was able to bring him, his accomplishments, and the sunset of Rome as a great empire to life. Belisarius's penchant for brilliant military deception is matched by the deception of his wife, Antonina, whose infidelity and own connection to Empress Theodora don't align with Belisarius's. She's as sharp as a tack, though, and as a mother to girls, I have to view her from the standpoint of a woman's survival at all costs. Bruton fills in the blanks by making Belisarius human as opposed to a man in a history book, and even if we know how it all ultimately plays out, Bruton's interpretation of the moments in between feels authentic and believable, making the novel an excellent addition to this series. Very highly recommended.

Asher Syed

In Empire in Apocalypse by Robert Bruton, Belisarius remains disconsolate over his wife's adultery. With only 5,000 troops, he embarks on a mission to retake Italy's lost Roman territory in the heart of this upheaval, successfully defending Rome from a siege. Despite his military victories, he is still troubled by his wife's betrayal. In the meantime, Brendan-led Hibernian monks on a distant island in the North Atlantic uncover something terrifying about the future of humanity and hastily report their discoveries to the Empress in Constantinople. Brendan's foreboding prophecy gains credence as Belisarius perseveres in the face of obstacles, including crop failures, illness, and political intrigue, when a catastrophic plague sweeps Constantinople, endangering the security of the empire and raising questions about Belisarius's plan for a new global order.
Robert Bruton does an exceptional job in his meticulous portrayals, especially with regard to the historical context of the Byzantine Empire and its military campaigns, in the novel Empire in Apocalypse. Bruton offers up a well-researched and immersive portrayal of the period while weaving personal and societal elements into the narrative, touching on language, customs, and the impact of Gothic rule on the population. The landscape becomes multi-dimensional through battle scenes and what follows with descriptions of settings like the Milvian Bridge, the frozen Tiber River, and the aftermath of battle. Bruton goes a step further and dives deep into the power struggles, alliances, and betrayals. This extends to the gender roles and societal expectations of women during that time, offering insights into the challenges they faced and their aspirations. Euphemia's desire for a different role in society and Antonina's support provide social commentary on the limitations imposed on women. Overall, this is an engrossing and fantastically researched novel and will no doubt prove a delight for lovers of historical fiction.