Storm at Noontide (2009) is the second SF omnibus in the Belisarius series, including Destiny's Shield and Fortune's Stroke. In this series, Belisarius has gone to the Malwa Empire and met many of the ruling family. He has also taken some steps to make allies, creating potential chaos. Then Malwa agents blind Justinian so that he cannot be emperor.
Destiny's Shield (1999) is the third novel in this series. Photius -- Antonina's eight year old son -- is adopted by Justinian and Theodora and then acclaimed as the Emperor. Theodora will be his regnant and Justinian his advisor. Hypatia will be his governess and Justin his chief bodyguard. Belisarius will be his strategos and Antonina his comfort.
Baresmanas of the Suren is the new Persian Ambassador. His audience is the first public appearance of the new emperor. He worries Photius until the young emperor makes a slight mistake in his greeting for the ambassador. When Baresmanas smiles warmly at his recovery, Photius is relieved. Baresmanas suddenly reminds Photius of his stepfather Belisarius.
After putting Photius to bed, Antonina joins a conference with the Persian ambassador. Baresmanas is just concluding a long and involved speech warning the Romans against interfering in the secession in Persia. As he is finishing his remarks, Irene Macrembolitissa ushers in a Persian officer, who whispers in the ambassador's ear.
When the ambassador withdraws to speak to his own entourage, Irene passes on the gist of the news. Persia has been invaded by the Malwa. Khusrau -- the new King of Kings -- has instructed Baresmanas to ask for Roman aid.
In this story, Belisarius leaves for Persia with his troops and the Persian ambassador. He and the Persians will face an army of two hundred thousand men. Only the Malwa could raise and support as army of this size.
The King of Kings is encamped within the ruins of Babylon. The bulk of the Malwa army has his army under siege, but cavalry units are scouring the rest of the country. Only Belisarius and his forces are available to counter these Malwa troops.
Antonina is leading the expedition against their opponents within Egypt. She has the Theodora Cohort, an infantry legion and five hundred cataphracts as well as hundreds of the newly formed order of the Knights Hospitaler. She also has Ashot as her military advisor and Irene as her intelligence advisor.
Empress Shakuntala is having problems with her maternal grandfather. He is demanding her departure from Kerala and is neglecting to block assassination attempts against her. In talks with his advisors, the empress agrees to leave if her grandfather pays for transportation and supplies. Otherwise, her Marathas may well take his kingdom from him.
Fortune's Stroke (2000) is the fourth novel in this series. Belisarius faces Lord Damodara and the Rajputs in the Zagros mountains. He scouts out the terrain and almost gets caught by an ambush set for him by Rana Sanga, but Belisarius and his bodyguards elude the Rajputs. Belisarius certainly deserves the rebukes he receives from his friends for underestimating his opponents.
Antonina is getting a tour of the city of Axum with Eon while his father Kaleb is consulting with the imperial advisors about the proposals from Rome. They are returning to the royal compound when she sees three men -- one an Indian -- running away from the compound. Then Ousanas tackles both Eon and Antonina and takes them to the ground just as a huge explosion destroys the buildings.
The negusa nagast and his eldest son died in the explosion. Now Eon is the only remaining heir to the throne. After a brief -- and largely symbolic -- trial of the dawazz Ousanas, Eon is conferred with the title of negusa nagast. He immediately begins planning for revenge against the Malwa and their dupes.
In Suppara, Irene Macrembolitissa -- Roman ambassador to the rebels in southern India -- literally runs into Kungas in the halls of the palace. She has been briefed by Belisarius, but doesn't expect much from an illiterate barbarian. Then she learns a little more about him and gains ample respect for the man. He is certainly illiterate, but he is not a barbarian. So she starts teaching him to read.
In this story, Rana Sanga realizes that Belisarius is blocking them from turning to the south. Lord Damodara agrees and the two decide to continue to the north into whatever trap Belisarius has contrived. When the Ye-tai object to marching rather than attacking the pass, Damodara gives them the honor of leading the march. Let the Ye-tai bear the brunt of the next ambush.
Then Belisarius discovers that the Malwa army under Damodara has built its own armament industry in Marv using Kushan artisans. Now Damodara is not dependent upon the supply lines from northern India for powder, shot and rockets. Worse yet, the new rockets have venturi to control their flight and are much more accurate.
Eon prepares to put down a revolt within his forces. Three regiments are supporting their own candidate for the negusa nagast. Garmat -- the only surviving advisor to Kaleb -- recommends that they concentrate on gaining the support of the Quraysh in Mecca. Ousanas agrees wholeheartedly with Garmat.
This tale takes Belisarius into a parlay with Rana Sanga where he privately reminds the Rajput to remember the exact words of his oath. Then Belisarius takes his army off the battlefield and pursues other plans. Meanwhile, Antonina is sailing for a rendezvous with her husband.
These stories have the Romans supplying cannons to their allies as well as for their own forces. They also include every form of armed conflict other than the use of weapons of mass destruction. But Belisarius creates his own weapon of mass destruction. Read and enjoy!
Highly recommended for Drake & Flint fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of military and naval combat, political intrigue and a touch of romance.
-Arthur W. Jordin