RogerBW's Blog

In the Heart of Darkness, David Drake and Eric Flint 06 December 2020

1998 alternate-history war story, second of six books. Belisarius is a guest of the Malwa empire in India, as they try to bribe him to turn against Justinian's Constantinople; meanwhile his wife Antonina works on developing a military force to use crude gunpowder weapons, which will be tested sooner than they expect.

This is the sort of book where this happens.

"So," he mused. "We are now the imperial bodyguard of the Satavahana dynasty. With nothing but Raghunath Rao as the general of a nonexistent army and this Belisarius as an ally."

Kujulo grinned. In that wolf's grin, at that moment, centuries of civilization vanished. The warrior of the steppes shone forth.

"Pity the poor Malwa!" exclaimed one of the other Kushan soldiers.

Kujulo's grin widened still.

"Better yet," he countered, "let us pity them not at all."

This is also the sort of book where the enemy finally puts someone actually capable in charge of things, and he provides something of a thinking opposition to Belisarius – though always a few steps behind, and hobbled by low status at first.

As usual, most of the bad guys are incompetent and vice versa. One of the more interesting new characters here is Narses the Grand Chamberlain, on the side of Team Evil more through circumstance and force majeure than by choice, but good at it; naturally he, well, let's say nobody found the body, and I'll be surprised if he doesn't reappear later in the series.

The fighting's plentiful and well done, the alternate history is getting increasingly divergent, and the authors work hard to make the series of victories by Team Good seem both plausible and earned. In terms of results, they do well; but they put a lot of effort into making sure that they will. And of course several times someone turns up to help win a battle just as it's turning into a last stand.

There's not much sense of progress because there isn't really a grand strategy yet, but it's still highly enjoyable.

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Previous in series: An Oblique Approach | Series: Belisarius | Next in series: Destiny's Shield

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