By the end of the reign of Emperor Claudius, which was shortened when he consumed a plate of poisoned mushrooms served lovingly by his wife Agrippina, Rome was swallowing up nation after nation, often with little resistance. The only thorn in Rome's side was the warlike tribes of Germania. They constantly raided and burned Roman outposts scattered along the Rhine and made the Romans pay dearly whenever they enslaved Germanic tribesmen.

Donna Gillespie immersed herself in the lore and legends of the Roman way of life and has emerged with THE LIGHT BEARER, a fact-filled novel that is sure to entertain readers in a manner they will not soon forget.

This massive saga shifts and twists as it follows the lives of three characters: Auriane, daughter of Baldemar, chief of the Chattians, one of the most virulent of the Germanic tribes; Marcus, raised as a slave before being rescued by his father, a Roman nobleman; and Decius, a Roman soldier captured by the Chattians. Other cast members both real and fictional come to vivid life.

Much has been written of the cold-blooded shenanigans of the Roman way of life, from the dastardly crimes of the empire's leaders to the wheeling and dealing of its senators, but Gillespie weaves her tale in a way that brings new color and excitement to the era.

For instance, when Athelinda, wife of Baldemar, is unable to give birth to Auriane, Ramis the prophetess appears. She massages Athelinda's belly with hen's grease, dittany and hollyhock and makes her walk. The baby is delivered effortlessly. This is the same Ramis who once each year performs human sacrifices in the dreaded bogs of Germania.

Gillespie depicts skin-covered huts with smoke holes, contrasting the primitive and harsh existence of the tribes to the glorious mansions of the Roman nobility and the cesspools frequented by the poorest of city-dwellers.

After his rescue from slavery, Marcus is introduced to the finest education. He grows to love scholarship and the practice of law, which eventually brings fame and fortune as well as jealous enemies.

At the Midsummer Assembly, the most important festival in the Germanic calendar, Auriane relinquishes her right to mortal marriage by giving herself as a bride to the god Wodan.

At sixteen and already adept with spear and bow, Auriane realizes that her tribe is doomed unless wholesale changes are made in its battle preparations. She appeals to Decius, the captured Roman soldier whom she has befriended, to teach her battle tactics and the use of weapons captured in raids.Gillespie gives crisp and detailed descriptions of the fighting methods of the well-trained Roman legions, their precise formations and deadly weapons looking vastly more polished than the ferocious, undisciplined tribesmen.

As powerful as Gillespie's action writing can be, she shows a deft and almost musical quality in more passionate interludes:

"Peace and contentment rolled over her like some golden smoke as she drifted over the black and bottomless pool at the place where the floodwaters became slack and still. Here was the world's end, and world's beginning; she floated through a mythical dusk, caressed by the gentle light-play of dawn."

No Roman tale would be complete without festival games and Gillespie does not disappoint. A dozen golden-helmeted sword fighters arrive at the Colosseum. When their helmets and scarlet cloaks are removed, twelve flaxen-haired barbarian women stand revealed, clad as Amazons in short leopard-skin tunics.

Their opponents are twelve dwarfs attired as Thracian gladiators. In less than fifteen minutes ten women and eight dwarfs are slaughtered. Emperor Domitian orders the two surviving women to be sent to the palace to await his pleasure: "When I take them, they will think they have been raped by Zeus," he proclaims.

Throughout this monumental story, Gillespie constantly increases the excitement and intrigue. There are no flat passages in THE LIGHT BEARER, only a fast-flowing stream that erupts into a full-scale torrent in the book's conclusion. Let us hope that we will see more from this sparkling new author.

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