Today, I’m really delighted to be welcoming Adam Lofthouse to the blog, with a post about his new Roman-era historical novel, Valentia, which is released today (and which I’ve already read and reviewed)

Here’s the blurb:

Meet Tribune Sixtus Victorinus. Drunken soldier. Absent father. Unlikely hero.

Wall of Hadrian, Britannia, AD 367

It’s just another day, until it isn’t. Tribune Sixtus Victorinus is scouting north of the Wall when he first sees the smoke. Little does he know it’s about to change his life forever. Riding south he finds a province in chaos, the local populace in flight, the soldiers absent. 

For rebellion is in the air at the far reaches of empire. The land is ablaze, overrun with barbarians, ‘Valentia’, is the word on everyone’s lips. And no one seems to have the first clue what to do about it. 

And so Victorinus must act. He has let his life run to ruin, drunk his youth away. Now he must forge himself into the soldier he always wanted to be, the hero his children think he is. 

Because his family are among the missing, and traitors lurk much closer than he could ever believe. 

To save his family, he must first save an empire.

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Adam Lofthouse the idea behind Valentia

I’m not very good at remembering where the ideas for my stories come from. I can remember researching for my first, The Centurion’s Son, and trying to find a period in Roman history that hadn’t already been ‘done’ by the authors I loved reading (Ben Kane, Anthony Riches, Conn Iggulden, Simon Scarrow etc) I settled on the Marcomannic War, but as for the idea of Albinus and his strained relationship with his father, I literally couldn’t tell you how I came up with it. 

For this one though, I sort of know. I was reading the excellent Imperial Brothers by William Hughes, which covers in great detail the reigns of Emperor Valentinian in the west and his brother Valens in the east. I’d researched the period before, and my first attempt at a novel was even set in the eastern empire during Valens’ reign, based around the battle of Adrianople (the book was bloody awful, but I learnt a few things whilst hacking away at my keyboard)

But researching the same period again, and having a few novels under my belt, I felt much more confident diving back into the time period. I discovered something known as the barbarico conspirito (barbarian conspiracy to you and me) which took place in the year 367AD. Britain in that year was effectively cut off from the western empire, as tribes from north of Hadrian’s wall, Ireland and Germania all swarmed on the isolated population at once. 

It instantly caught my attention, my imagination running wild as I thought of the possibilities. I needed a hero, a man to base my story around. What I came up with was Sixtus Victorinus, an aging tribune of the miles areani (a scouting unit that roamed the wild lands north of Hadrian’s Wall, keeping tabs on the Picts). I’ve always been drawn to the sort of anti-hero, and some of the best books I’ve read are centred around them (read The Damned by Tarn Richardson; Inquisitor Poldek Tacit is a phenomenal creation). I started delving into his past, into his mind. The idea of an estranged wife and kids, of drinking to hide the shame of a wasted life, full of regret for the path that remained untrodden, sprang from me, and I knew I had my man. 

The other thing that drew me to this event was the amount of real-life people I could throw in to the story. Magnus Maximus and Theodosius the Great both feature (before they elevated themselves to the purple and took those names, pointed their respective armies at each other and brought the Roman world into civil war – but that’s a tale for another book), so too do the magister militum Flavius Jovinus, and the Theodosius the Great’s father, the Count Theodosius. The more I researched the more found myself itching to get started, but I still needed an antagonist, someone who could have been powerful and ambitious enough to be the man behind the conspirito. 

Enter stage and left, Lupus Valentinus. A senator recorded as being banished from the emperor’s court for a crime that has not survived the centuries, only avoiding execution thanks to a friend in Rome having a word in Valentinian’s ear. He was perfect, not in the least because of his name. 

Valentia is a word that crops up when researching the later western empire, but no one can quite agree on what it was. Some say it was for a time the northernmost province in Britain, between Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall, others have it as being south of the Wall. Others say it was something else entirely. Again, this worked perfectly for me. I could have it as Valentinus’ own province, the beginning of a new world he was birthing on Britain’s northern soil. He hadn’t though, banked on our anti hero Victorinus to step up and fight him for the right.  

So, I had my story, throw in some stunning artwork by the wonderful folk at More Visual (check them out at bookartwork.com) and I have a book. It was an utter joy to write, and I do hope you’ll enjoy reading it.

Thank you so much for sharing Adam. I wish you tonnes of luck for the new release, and below is my review of Valentia, a fantastic novel.

My Review

Valentia by Adam Lofthouse is a fascinating reimagining of Britannia during the late 360s. This then is Roman Britain, complete with Roman soldiers and senators, Roman weapons and, of course, Hadrian’s Wall. (It’s the 1900 anniversary of Hadrian’s Wall this year, so it’s all quite apt:)) But, this is also a world of Germanic warriors, Saxon invaders, the tribes from beyond the Wall, and even some pirates.

Historically, the end of Roman Britain might be a few years in the future, but this is a world on the brink, the reach of the Romans starting to fade, and the events in Valentia tell of a people as yet unaware of the coming calamities, and, Adam tells it very well. We have abandoned Roman forts, discontent Roman soldiers who aren’t getting paid on time, and the tribes from across Hadrian’s Wall more aware of what might be happening than the Romans. And the emperor is very far away in Rome.

Our two main characters, Tribune Sixtus Victorinus, and Felicius are opposites of the same coin; one jaded and a drunk, the other, still a career Roman soldier. Between them, they must disentangle the unexplained events on the borderlands, and then they must rouse support from all that they can to defeat the coming rebellion.

Valentia starts fantastically well, immediately sucking the reader into the world of the 360s. It’s really quite hard to put the book down as the tension ramps up. Tribune Sixtus is a sympathetic character, for all, he is perhaps to blame for many of his problems. The small group of warriors who make up his area of command are well-sketched, and there is tragedy in the offing. Felicius’ life is more regimented, and it is Felicius who gives us the glimpse of what it was to be a Roman in the waning years of the Empire.

I really enjoyed Valentia. The book starts with a bang and builds really well to its conclusion, meeting a great cast of characters on the way. If you’re a fan of stories set in Saxon England, then you’ll love this earlier glimpse of Britannia.

Author: M J Porter, author

I'm a writer of historical fiction (Early England/Viking and the British Isles as a whole before 1066, as well as two 20th century mysteries).

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