The historical novel binge continues with Richard O’Connor’s The Vandal. Doubleday published the hardback in 1960. Popular Library published the paperback in 1962.
Richard O’ Connor was a writer who flourished in the 1950s and 60s. His books are a mix of biographies and fiction. Most deal with the Old West or the U.S. Civil War. The Vandal is an outlier in time and setting for him.
The Vandal is set during the time of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. This is a period that I know very well. I have read Procopius’ histories of the wars with Vandals, Goths, and Persians. I know the geography, tribes, personages, and warfare. The Vandals have been an area of interest of mine since reading Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon stirred my imagination with the description of the barbarian warlord, Gaiseric the Vandal and his gamble crossing from Spain into Roman North Africa and conquering the richest province in the Roman Empire. 80,000 Vandals, Alans, Goths, and renegade Romans were a hardcore force tempered by decades of movement and warfare.
This novel starts with Belisarius’ army returning from campaigning against the Ostrogoths in Italy. One of his lieutenants is Marius the Vandal. A quibble, when Belisarius conquered the Vandal kingdom, they were still using names like Hilderic and Gelimer. Belisarius recruited defeated Vandal warriors into the Byzantine Army where most were sent east.
The Persians are stirring on the eastern frontier. Belisarius will be sent to defeat Shah Khosru. Marius falls in love with Euphemia, daughter of treasurer John of Cappadocia. The novel is a mix of romance and intrigue, as Belisarius must navigate the treacherous environs of Blacharnae Palace. To be too successful a general is a dangerous thing to the emperor. Belisarius is sent with an inadequate force to deal with the Persians.
There is a small battle and some skirmishes. This is not as a blood & thunder novel as it could. have been. A plot including Belisarius wife brings down John of Cappadocia His daughter Euphemia is swept up with the likelihood of disappearing forever in one of the Empress Theodora’s secret prisons. The novel ends with Marius the Vandal on his way to rescue Euphemia. I was taken aback by the abrupt non-ending to the novel. This should have been a longer novel. O’Connor gets quite a bit right with the period. He just needed a more satisfactory resolution to the novel.
Illustrators seem to have no concept of Late Antiquity. The paperback cover has a Classical Greece hoplite instead of a late Roman cavalryman. The hardback has Marius in late Roman republic- early empire cuirass and helmet instead of spangenhelm, spatha, and outfitted as a cataphract. As I said, I know this period very well.