If you follow this blog at all, you know that there are certain things that never fail to delight me: one is Christian fiction that’s actually well-written and engaging; another is historical fiction that gives me a glimpse into an era I didn’t know much about before. Christianus Sum offers both.
This novel takes place in Rome in the third century, as an emperor named Decius ascends the imperial throne and begins persecuting Christians. Although I’ve done some reading in the last few years about Rome in the time of Julius and Augustus Caesar, I knew almost nothing about third-century Rome, and hadn’t realized what an utterly chaotic period this was in the Empire. Pollett captures the imperial power struggles of this era very well, while his main focus is on the lives of Christians in this period.
The two main characters in this novel are a senator named Julius Valens, and the slave (later, freedwoman) Damarra Valensia, with whom he falls in love. She is a Christian; he is not much of a believer in anything, but tries to protect the Christians in his household from persecution. While the novel occasionally descends into romance-novel cliches that detract from the otherwise good characterization, the strong storyline and excellent glimpse into an era I knew little about, kept me interested to the end. Christianus Sum is apparently the first in a trilogy, and I will be looking out for others.
One note: I didn’t realize till after I’d read the book, that Pollett’s publisher, Word Alive, a Canadian Christian publisher, appears to be a “joint venture” type of publisher. I know there’s a lot of controversy around what many people view as glorified self-publishing. I understand that it may well be the wave of the future and that it does help new writers to break into the market, but like many other writers I wore about the overall diminishment in quality created by publishers who will publish a book by anyone who has the money to buy the copies, regardless of literary value. On the other hand, given the amount of junk published by a lot of “traditional” presses, maybe that’s not such a big concern! I will admit to some prejudice against joint-venture publishing houses, but even had I known Word Alive was such a publisher, I probably would still have read Christianus Sum, simply because of my interest in the subject matter. Fortunately, it’s well-written enough to get past my prejudices and make me want to read more.