The Legions of Fire (2010) is the first Fantasy novel in The Books of the Elements series. It is set within Carce, an empire very much like Rome in 30 AD. Magic is part of the belief system, but most citizens have little experience with thaumaturgy.
In this novel, Publius Corylus is a Knight of Carce and the son of a Publius Cispius, a former tribune in the Carce legions. Corylus is an army brat and only wishes to become an army officer. But first he needs training in Philosophy and Rhetoric.
Marcus Pulto is Corylus's servant. He had been a striker for the senior Publius before they retired and had practically raised Corylus. Pulto is married to Anna when he retired.
Anna is the wife of Pulto. She had been the nursemaid for Corylus and then housekeeper for the Publius family. She believes in many things that the public considers superstitions.
Gaius Alphenus Varius is the son of Gaius Saxa, a Senator. He and Corylus have the same Rhetoric instructor and have become friends. Varius even lets Corylus take instruction and practice in the family gymnasium.
Gaius Alphena is the daughter of Saxa. Her father is rather confused and lets her do many things. Alphena has almost forgotten that she is a girl.
Hedia is Saxa's second wife. She had been married to his cousin, who died mysteriously. Hedia truly cares for Saxa and his children, but Alphena does not like her stepmother.
Lenatus is a former freelance swordsmaster. Now he is the trainer for the Gaius household. His services are not used by Saxa or Varius, but he does teach Corylus and Alphena. He is a friend of Pulto.
Pandaerus of Athens is a philosopher and instructor in Rhetoric for a dozen young men. Only Corylus and Varius are really serious about learning public speaking.
Nemastes is a Hyperborean sorcerer. He has gained the attention of Saxa and greatly influences him. Nemastes can talk the Senator into just about anything.
In this story, Corylus and Pulto are on their way to a reading by Varius. Pulto is even wearing a toga, but he still has on his on his hobnailed boots. When they arrive, Corylus lets Pulto leave, so the servant goes to visit Lenatus.
The courtyard is crowded. Not many are there to hear the poetry of Varius, but Corylus and Pandareus are truly listening to every word. Of course, Corylus may tease Varius and Pandareus will critique him after the reading.
However, the reading doesn't go as planned. Corylus is trying to stay awake and suddenly experiences a vision Then Varius sees twelve sorcerers dancing near a cliff. The others also see strange things.
Alphena sees her brother go into a trance. Then the room shudders and the air becomes cold. She gets off her bench and slaps Varius.
The room returns to normal, but the crowd is milling in confusion. Then the audience rushes out of the courtyard. Saxa and Nemastes enter to observe about the disturbance, but soon leave.
Varius and Corylus are clinging to each other, looking stunned. Pandareus suggests that they leave the courtyard to get away from the spectators. Alphena decides to adjourn to the gymnasium.
Pulto lead Pandareus, Alphena, Varius and Corylus to the gym, with Lenatus at the rear. Pulto clears the way as they cross the courtyard and checks the gym for witnesses. Then he and Lenatus guard the door.
After Pandareus closes the door, he questions the two youths. Corylus explains his dream of a snowy forest. Alphena asks if he saw anything else. He says that he had seen hairy elephants. He also admits that he had seen Saxa and Nemastes just before awaking.
Then Pandareus questions Varius about the object in his hand. Varius doesn't know anything about the object, but adamantly claims it as his own. Upon further questioning, Varius admits seeing dancers.
Meanwhile, Hedia questions Saxa about the affair. Saxa says that she will just have to trust him. She replies that she does trust him, but suggests that the Emperor may not if he continues to associate with sorcerers.
This tale takes Varius, Corylus, Alphena and Hedia into dream worlds where weird events happen. They meet nymphs, fauns, ghosts, savages and other supernatural creatures. They face strange and terrifying trials.
Corylus and Varius survive the fiery disasters. The next installment -- Out of the Waters -- will address the element of water. Read and enjoy!
Highly recommended for Drake fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of the ancient world, magical incidents, and persevering young people.
-Arthur W. Jordin