Every once in a while a book comes along that steps outside the boundaries of expectation. Bound by Honor by Virginia Weldon is such a book. The time is 43 A.D., but the story doesn’t introduce the reader to the struggling Christians, but rather to the Celtic Druids of Britain who were overrun by Roman Conquerors.
Regan, the only son of a village chief, has the soul of a musician and with his love of the lute and other musical instruments he dreams of becoming a bard. War with the Romans forces him to become a warrior instead. When his village is attacked and one of his younger sisters is left severely crippled, he, his father, and most of the men of the village are forced to flee for their lives. They join a stronger fighting unit and travel to a more remote area to recoup their strength. In this larger camp Regan meets and falls in love with a female warrior.
This band of warriors can neither outfight nor outrun the stronger, larger Roman force. When betrayal comes many are killed, but some of the stronger, more attractive young warriors are taken captive then shipped to Rome to be sold as slaves. Regan has no way of knowing the fate of his family and the woman to whom he has become newly betrothed.
While aboard the slave ship, Regan resists his captors and is severely beaten. A young woman, Alana, draws attention to herself by standing up to the young Roman officer who administered the beating and who is in charge of the ship and everyone aboard it. She demands supplies so that she might care for the severely injured man. The officer, Valerius, admires both Alana’s and Regan’s courage and when they reach Rome he arranges for a kind merchant to attend the auction and bid for them. The merchant purchases Alana, but Regan is one of those captives who never reaches the auction block, but is sold privately to be sent to the Colosseum to become a gladiator. Though Valerius continues his military responsibilities he doesn’t forget the slaves he has taken an interest in and their lives intersect again.
Bound by Honor is filled with the details of life in Rome during the period when Rome’s glory was disintegrating to greed and corruption-when even sporting events focused on blood and violence. It also enlightens the reader to the divergent religious beliefs of the ancient Britons and the to the multiple philosophies and gods of the Romans. There are those of each group who place value on virtues such as truth, loyalty, and honor. Toward the end of the book Christianity is introduced and Weldon’s characters begin to weigh its merits against the strengths and weaknesses of their own faiths.
The author has done an exemplary job of presenting an authentic background for her story. Her study of history coupled with her life in South Wales and years of extensive travel have steeped her imagination in the history and myths of the Celtic peoples, enabling her to draw believable characters and settings. Her love of the classics, especially Shakespeare explains in part her ability to present a bold, big picture of the people who rose and fell in power in that part of the world now known today as Great Britain.
Weldon has included enough background notes to enable readers who not well-versed in the historical period, which saw the beginnings of the travels of the New Testament writers, to better understand that time period. She gives easily understandable explanations of the time, tools, money, class differences, and the politics of the era.
The book explores honor from several points of view and focuses on the demands of honor and loyalty to one’s country, community, and family. It examines honor owed between master and slave and asks questions concerning being true to one’s self.
This book is well-written and meaty enough to satisfy the more discriminating reader, but will not lose or discourage the reader seeking a lighter read. It is both a learning experience and a satisfying entertainment read. My only disappointment in the book was in the brief references to Christianity and the minimal space given to one character’s conversion to the gospel. I think this aspect could have been expanded in this volume even though the conclusion has me expecting a sequel which will doubtless explore this area more thoroughly.