“Sub Rosa – Sanctuary’s End” by Patrick Sean Barry
The novel, a fast-paced, well-written historical thriller, takes place inside 24 hours. As the Bishop Theophilus of Alexandria puts the last pieces in place to obtain complete control over the restive city, and with the Roman Emperor Theodosius’s support, one detail remains unresolved. Despite systematic attempts to take him into custody, one mysterious stranger with one distinct marking – a white eyebrow – remains at large. A man with spiritual influence rivaling the Bishop’s from adherents of a competing Gnostic Christian sect – who is also a master within a secret society known as the Tekton Brotherhood – he is known by many different names: those closest to the man refer to him as Marcus Seanus
Aware he is a targeted man, Marcus plans to leave the city troubled with religious strife at sunrise, but not before he takes delivery of a mysterious book he commissioned with one of the scribes at the famed Library of Alexandria: a copy of ancient scrolls which hold untold secrets which draw from the city’s storied tradition as the birthplace of alchemy. The book, as well as a precious elixir – prepared and supplied by Jacob Silvenus of the House of Arimathea, who claims his lineage directly to Joseph of Arimathea – is his precious cargo which Marcus pledged to deliver to his master in the Roman Province of Narbonensis. Betrothed to Rachel, Jacob’s beautiful daughter, Marcus has pledged he must first complete his mission before he can share his life with her. With the aid of his loyal and nobly-born Arab cohort – Abd Al-Uman – Marcus barely escapes capture on route to fulfilling his charge, one step ahead of the tragedy which befalls too many of those he has left behind him.
This famed and great city of the mythical Pharos lighthouse, where Alexander the Great and St. Mark’s tombs still stand, as well as hosting the Great Library, is also the main shipping hub controlling the Roman Empire’s grain trade. Alexandria is the crown jewel of Constantinople’s holdings, the lynchpin of influence in politics, wealth, knowledge and strategic geography. The birthplace of theology, it is also the center of the evolving powerful influence of the Christian Church which has become the official religion of the empire. With the ruthless support of the Parabolani paramilitary civilian monks and brutal enforcers of Theophilus’s ambitious will, led by the brutal thug Brother Hieronymus, the bishop is imposing martial law on the city to gain total victory of the standoff at the Serapeum. It is the oldest and largest temple complex of Alexandria which sits on a commanding hill overlooking the sea-front city where the pagans of the city have taken refuge in protest of the bishop’s draconian actions.
Inciting the civilian mobs to mayhem at the Serapeum, and commanding them on to burn it to the ground, Theophilus rouses them on to finish ‘God’s work’, and raze the Great Library as well. As the rabble bears down on the library, led by the Parabolani, and supported by Roman Centurions, Marcus discovers his scribe as betrayed him to two the Bishop’s monks lying in wait. The dramatic events unfold from there
What follows is a taut and well-crafted epic, leaving the reader guessing from the first page through the last. Sub Rosa – Sanctuary’s End is an engaging historical thriller, with well-researched insight into history and Christian theology, and an engrossing page turner which transports one to the times. I have never read a book like this which portrays an obscure part of history in a thoroughly compelling and engaging manner. The aspects of life in this time are described in the most ornate and vivid detail which is only possible from someone with a great conviction and knowledge of the subject matter. The characters, their personalities, names and the mannerisms will live in the minds of readers. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and look forward to the promise of a possible sequel to this compelling story world.
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