An empire in decline: Ian Ross on Imperial Vengeance

  

An empire in decline: Ian Ross on Imperial Vengeance

Ian Ross' Twilight of Empire series follows Aurelius Castus, a professional soldier in the Roman legions, on the Empire's quest for power. The series has sold over 50,000 copies and been described as 'hugely enjoyable' by Conn Iggulden. Before the release of the latest instalment, Imperial Vengeance, we caught up with Ian to discuss floundering empires, crises of allegiance and the unsettling echoes of our own times visible in his books.
 
What sets your series, Twilight of Empire, apart?
The Twilight of Empire series is set at a moment of great upheaval and change in European history. The Roman Empire – already over five hundred years old at that point, beset by crises and invasions – was in the process of social and religious transformation. In retrospect it was the last flowering of classical civilisation before the final collapse, but for the people of the day it was a tremendously dramatic and uncertain time. Most other stories of the Roman world are set hundreds of years earlier, in the familiar age of the Caesars; Castus’s adventures take place against a darker and often more vividly alien backdrop, but one with unsettling echoes of our own times.
 
Aurelius Castus is the main character in your books. Who is he and what motivates him?
Castus is a professional soldier, devoted to the legions and to his emperor, the image of the type of tough military man that made Rome such a great world power. I wanted a protagonist who, while entirely inhabiting his age, also had a greater inner complexity. So, while he’s a very straightforward, unsophisticated man, and often frustrated by the complexities of power, Castus retains a strong core of ethical humanity that throws him into conflict with the twisted morals of his age. In the later Roman era, perhaps for the first time in history, men like Castus, from the very lowest levels of society, could rise to the summit of the social hierarchy, and in each successive story, I’ve tried to push him into situations that challenge him even further. As he rises from the relatively simple world of the legions to the treacherous environment of the imperial court and the higher reaches of power, his beliefs about himself, and his loyalty to the emperors he serves and the civilisation he loves are tested. The finale of Imperial Vengeance in particular sees Castus’s conflicts of allegiance finally thrown into crisis!
 
Do you think there are any parallels between the world Castus inhabits and the world we live in today?
Imperial Vengeance sees Castus moving into the innermost circles of power, and the challenges he faces are therefore both intensely personal and deeply political. So the conflict between the loyalties and ambitions of individuals and the fate of great empires is all the starker in this book. We live today in a time of enormous and quite sudden political upheavals, a time when the future direction of the world seems to rest in the hands of a few very powerful personalities; it’s impossible, I think, not to see the connections between the distant past and the present in this respect. By trying to see the flux of events through the eyes of the participants, I hope that this distant past can appear both dramatically engaging and quite bracingly contemporary!
 
 

Imperial Vengeance is available in ebook on 1st December, and in hardback on 11th January.