Interregnum by SJA Turney

Rating 8.6/10
An accomplished example of historical fiction/alternate history.

For twenty years civil war has torn the Empire apart; the Imperial line extinguished as the mad Emperor Quintus burned in his palace, betrayed by his greatest general. Against a background of war, decay, poverty and violence, men who once served in the proud Imperial army now fight as mercenaries, hiring themselves to the greediest lords.
 
On a hopeless battlefield that same general, now a mercenary captain tortured by the events of the past, stumbles across hope in the form of a young man begging for help. Kiva is forced to face more than his dark past as he struggles to put his life and the very Empire back together. The last scion of the Imperial line will change Kiva forever.
 
 
Interregnum, noun, a period when normal government is suspended, especially between successive reigns or regimes. ORIGIN Latin, from inter- ‘between’ + regnum ‘reign’.
Oxford English Dictionary
 
Interregnum is a story of redemption, set in a war-torn world based upon the latter days of the crumbling Roman Empire. Written using a contemporary narrative, it is resplendent with lifelike and likeable characters and an action-packed and accomplished example of historical fiction/alternate history.

The book’s overriding theme of lost hope and lost nobility takes human form in the shape of Kiva, Interregnum’s lead. Kiva is a hardened, bitter veteran, the captain of a band of mercenaries called the Grey Company. Having served in the great Imperial military under the Emperors, Kiva and his men are now reduced to swords-for-hire but a chance encounter with Quintillian, a prisoner on the island of Isera, changes both their lives and the future of the very Empire.

A character-driven novel, viewed from multiple perspectives, Kiva and Quintillian are just two amongst a cast of many. Those who stand out most from the crowd are: Athas, Kiva’s right hand man and sergeant in the Grey Company; Sarios, once chief minister of the Empire and now a prisoner of Isera; Velutio, previously a general in the Imperial army and now the most powerful lord and landowner in the Empire; Tythias, scarred and disfigured, a veteran of the Imperial army. Interregnum’s characters are its real strength. But Sabian, a brilliant tactician and morally upstanding man, shines brighter than all of the above.  

The penal island of Isera, once the greatest of Imperial Palaces, is where large sections of the book are set and it is another real highlight. The following words are from Interregnum’s author SJA Turney on the origins of Isera:  

 “As to the island prison, the whole background of Isera is a combination of two places. One is the Imperial Palace complex on the Palatine in Rome, which fits the bill of what Isera was in the days of the Emperors. The other is the Island of Capri. In the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, Capri became something of an Imperial retreat. On suffering personal tragedies, Tiberius left the running of Rome to the senate and built twelve villas on Capri, one for each of the 12 Olympian Gods. He spend many years on the island, becoming increasingly melancholic and is said to have taken to the habit of throwing slaves and young folk to their death from the balcony high above the rocky coastline. Essentially, the increasing (and obviously hereditary) madness of the Julio Claudian line is well documented, from Tiberius' melancholy to Caligula's violence to Nero's megalomania and the Julio-Claudian line gave me something of the base for the Imperial family in Interregnum. In many ways, Capri became a prison to Tiberius and to all his staff, servants and slaves, while Rome was run in his name.”
 
Interregnum is a riveting tale, the author’s detailed knowledge and comprehensive research result in making the tale believable with a genuine feeling of authenticity. It is a military-based tale that surprises with its pacifist undertones, featuring pleasant plot twists and turns, which ensure that events never at any time become formulaic.
 
However, there is an element of the narrative that will divide opinions and that is the use of modern language and profanities within the dialogue. Turney explains why he opted for this approach:
 
“The use of contemporary dialogue is something that's been brought up on both this and Marius' Mules, which was my earlier Historical Fiction novel. Certainly in Interregnum I made no effort to tone down or dance around the use of modern language and profanity. I feel that when the subject matter is, as in the case of Interregnum, largely dark, military, brutal and male-oriented, the language is much more fitting and helps set the scene. I think that of the comments I've received on the language, opinion has been divided roughly equally between people who felt disappointed by the use of modern vulgarities and people who found it enjoyable and helpful in getting the feel of the situations. In all, whether people love it or hate it, I'd rather make the dialogue stand out than fade into the background.”

The use of modern language and profanity will, as the author stated, probably divide opinions – some will love it, some may be less enamoured.
 
The fighting is very well done; it is brutal and very realistic. The political intrigue, which plays such a large part, is also well conceived.
 
It should be mentioned that the book was published trough YouWriteOn.com, the website where Douglas Jackson (Caligula) was first spotted, and as such has not been lucky enough to have the services of a large team of editors on it. As such, there are some typos and the sentence structure is not always firm but this is to be expected, and allowed for, in a self-published book. As it stands Interregnum is a very good book, a team of highly skilled editors could turn it into an excellent book.
 
Interregnum shows that Turney not only has an excellent imagination but also a gift for storytelling. It is exciting, involving, moving and thought provoking, an accomplished example of historical fiction/alternate history.

--

SJA Turney lives North Yorkshire. Educated at Teesside Polytechnic and Keele University where he studied Classical History.
The urge to write and the urge study Classical history have combined to produce two novels, Milius’ Mule and Interregnum.

The excerpt below is taken from Interregnum and tells of the dangerous and risky approach to the island of Isera:

Isera is a wonderful invention and stays fresh in the mind long after the final page is turned. The excerpt below shows our first encounter with the island:
“The small vessel rocked and shook as it rode the troughs and crests of waves in the narrow channel that led to Isera. The island had been a place of fortification and safety long before the days of Imperial power due to the treacherous system of reefs and rocks that formed a horseshoe around it. The only safe route for a vessel was through a narrow channel that led from the main dock on the island to the Livia Port in the city of Velutio, once the Imperial capital. Even in that channel the journey was hazardous enough that only the most stouthearted sailor would attempt the journey in anything but the calmest of seas. At the height of its power, the Empire’s engineers had created seawalls that calmed this single passage with a complex system of rest stops and windbreaks. In those days the Emperor’s pleasure barge would ply the channel with no fear. The days of Imperial surety were long gone, as were the sea defences. Now only a madman would make the journey.”
Interregnum: Swords and Ploughshares

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