Book review: “Hadrian’s Wall,”

Lake Elmo Library Link

Linda Orsted
Lake Elmo Library Director

Book review: “Hadrian’s Wall,” by William Dietrich

There’s nothing new under the sun. Stories about ethnic unrest, political intrigue, romance and sexual tension between supposed enemies abound in today’s news, movies, and novels, but the themes are as old as human history.

Hadrian’s Wall — a novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, William Dietrich — delivers a multi-faceted, imaginative story of adventure, mystery, romance and culture clash set in ancient times.

The year is 367, the twilight of the ancient Roman Empire. The setting is the border between Britannia (England) and the ‘uncivilized’ Celtic lands north of the 80 mile long wall (Scotland) built by Emperor Hadrian. Presuppositions about culture and civilization underlie the story itself. The Roman military and ruling class see themselves as bringing order, stability, and an improved standard of living to the barbarian peoples in Britain. They see the Celts as uncivilized, crude and dirty, but the Celts believe the Romans are imperialist oppressors who have no business ruling their lands. In the middle are the Romanized Britons who live south of the wall and cooperate with the Romans as middlemen and bureaucrats to keep the occupation running smoothly.

Although the author created his own characters and plot for his novel, he set the story around an actual Briton insurgence in 367. At the heart of the story is Valeria, the daughter of a senator, who travels from Rome to a garrison outpost on the Wall in order to marry the commander, a scholar and political appointee with questionable leadership abilities. Galba, the second in command and a seasoned warrior, resents his new superior. Enter Arden, a Celtic chieftain and former Roman infantryman who kidnaps Valeria and plans to use her as a hostage. Valeria, however, is strong willed and curious about her captors. Her curiosity leads her to learn the language and ultimately to respect the Celtic way of life.

Dietrich plays out the story in flashback, told by Draco, a Roman bureaucrat who is sent to investigate the uprising and the disappearance of Valeria. Through interviews with supporting characters, he attempts to understand what motivated her and why the events transpired the way they did.

Fans of historical mysteries and readers looking for a compelling story, romance and historical accuracy will enjoy this book. The author gives the reader something to think about while telling an exciting tale.

The book is in the fiction collection at the Lake Elmo Public Library. If you haven’t visited the library, it’s time to stop by and get a library card. It’s free and a great way to expand your mind. September is Library Card Sign-up Month. Add ‘the smartest card’ to your wallet.


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