The Belisarius hexalogy by Eric Flint and David Drake

Books in this series (all published by Baen):

  1. An Oblique Approach (1998)
  2. In the Heart of Darkness (1998)
  3. Destiny’s Shield (1999)
  4. Fortune’s Stroke (2000)
  5. The Tide of Victory (2001)
  6. The Dance of Time (2006)

The premise sounds a little silly: a cyborg and a crystalline artificial intelligence travel back through time from the far future into the Sixth Century. The cyborg’s mission: to create a totalitarian world government that will create the perfect future according to one branch of fanatics. The crystal’s mission: to aid the Byzantine general Belisarius to defeat the cyborg.

Never mind that premise. Here is another. Gunpowder and associated technologies are introduced in the 6th Century, first in India and second in the (Eastern) Roman Empire. What happens next?

Based on an outline for a trilogy by David Drake, Eric Flint has created a masterpiece in this six-volume story. It really is a united story, not a collection of six independent novels; the story starts in the first book and ends in the sixth. There will be no more books in this series (except, perhaps, as a “sequel” series, though the authors have not hinted about this).

It is a masterpiece, all right. In an action-adventure story, plot is paramount, and the Belisarius hexalogy has an unusually tight plot for the word count. The characters are well drawn; evidence of this claim is that I wept, much like Belisarius himself, when one of the significant secondary characters died – in battle, yes, but by a fortune’s stroke and not by any enemy’s design. The characterization of the societies and countries involved is suberb in my admittedly history-challenged opinion; India is described vividly, although, as Flint has mentioned, it’s extremely anachronistic (Flint himself considers this appropriate under the circumstances, and describes his portrait of 6th Century India as “impressionistic”).

After a slightly slow start – it takes several not so exciting chapters for the premise of the story to be revealed – the story starts climbing like an aeroplane after takeoff, and never stops. The mood in the beginning is downright depressing, with only a tiny bit of hope, but it steadily brightens, and the last book is pure payoff, immensely satisfying to this reader. It was so satisfying, that I haven’t suffered from story world withdrawal after finishing The Dance of Time. This is unusual.

I have no other option but to rate this story 5/5.

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