Belisarius, the Roman/Byzantine General has ended the perpetual Roman wars with the Persian Empire and created a rebellion among the nomadic tribes which formed the shock troops of the Malwa armies. Now Roman and Persian troops stand at the banks of the Indus river. But the Malwa are not without resources. The entire wealth and population of India are at their service, and the mathmatical mind of Link, a computer sent from the future, is calculating the optimal strategy for reversing the Roman advances and turning the tide once more. After all, India has eternity on its side.
Belisarius, with his futuristic crystal-computer-friend, Aide, suspects that the Malwa will eventually self-destruct, but eventually is too long. He's always looking for a shorter path, a route which, while possibly violent, can convert tens of millions of casualties into tens of thousands. Even if millions are needed, though, Belisarius is willing to pay the price. He's seen the future where Link wins--a future where all of mankind is brought under Link's heel and where progress is stamped out. Fortunately, Link has access to all of the world's great battles, but lacks much imagination--and Belisarius is counting on that to doom the Malwa plans.
Authors Eric Flint and David Drake zoom from protagonist to protagonist as they take the reader from the siege warfare at the Indus river across the deserts of western India, into the Hindu Kush mountains and the Khyber Pass, and into Kausambi, the very capital of the Malwa Empire.
THE DANCE OF TIME is the sixth and final novel in the Belisarius series. By this time, the basic military innovations created by Link and Aide are fully in place. Rather than relying on sword and spear, Roman Cataphracts carried muskets and the army had developed siege cannons, mines, telegraphs, and ironclads as well. Rather than concentrate on these, Flint and Drake put the focus on the rebel Damodara, and his attempt to save his family before Link and the Emperor Skandagupta are able to hunt them down.
Fans of this series (like me) will enjoy seeing the conclusion as the military genius of Belisarius is pitted against the sheer computational abilities of Link. Although many of the modern innovations have already taken place, a charming sub-plot involving the creation of a sort of Red Cross shows the diffusion of knowledge and creativity beyond the circle immediately influenced by Aide and Belisarius.
Flint and Drake are polished writers and THE DANCE OF TIME shows it. Still, I think the book, and indeed the whole series, would have been more enjoyable if Belisarius's plans didn't always go right, if he had to extemporize more often. After all, detailed long-term planning is where Link should be strongest, not Belisarius. This book probably won't make much sense, and certainly won't be enjoyable, to readers who haven't already read the earlier books in the series. If you have read them, though, you won't want to miss this exciting conclusion.