I became a fan of Bryan Litfin’s novels through the Chiveis Trilogy. When he announced a new series, I immediately put it on my TBR. I had such great confidence in the author, I didn’t really care what the series was about. Although, my love of history, especially church history, had me anticipating the release very much. At the release, I started seeing posts on Facebook and Instagram from influencers I follow that saw what they felt were major flaws in the book. After looking at reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, I began to wonder if I even wanted to read this book. A lot of folks were saying it wasn’t very “Christian”. This confused me, because I considered some of those folks people I have a lot of commonality with when it comes to reading preferences. I trust what they say. But… when I started to think through what I knew of the author’s writing style (from reading the Chiveis Trilogy), it didn’t match up to what I saw in those reviews. So, I bought the book and decided to find out for myself.
Personally, I didn’t find it as horrible as some have made it out to be. I just finished it a few days ago, and really enjoyed it. If you’ll stick around with me, I’ll be happy to explain why that is and my thoughts behind why some were very disappointed. This may help you determine if this book is right for you.
The first thing you need to know when you’re considering a Bryan Litfin book is that his novels are always going to be plot driven. Action, adventure and history are going to be the main focus. There will be some romance develop between characters, but they will play second fiddle to the plot. If you’re primarily a romance reader, know that Litfin doesn’t really write the type of romance you’re probably used to. He writes pretty heavy themes. I think this was confusing for some because they saw an awesome cover and thought, “Biblical Fiction,” which is a pretty romantic, chill genre. However, because they had no experience with this author, when they ran into war scenes, evil emperors and likewise, evil people, they were like, “Uh, wait a minute…” I attribute this to the fact that for most folks, The Conqueror would be the first book they’ve ever read from Litfin. When he published the Chiveis Trilogy, it got categorized under Fantasy in the Young Adult / Teen section. Therefore, no one knew who he was, even though he had authored a complete series already. Because I read both the Fantasy and Historical Fiction in CF and was familiar with his work, my expectations going into this series were completely different than others.
Now, something I feel like I have to cover – because it was brought up so much in other reviews – is the idea that there was a lot of sexual content in this book. Honestly, this is one of the reasons I was so confused about in reviews on The Conqueror. Bryan Litfin had ZERO sexual content in his other books and I just didn’t see that being a problem with anything he wrote. It really had me stumped because I don’t like books that include such content. (After all, I read Christian Fiction for a reason! LOL!) So, I want to share what I think happened when people started reading this book, and of course, I’ll throw in some quick facts to reference at the end of this section to simplify things.
I feel like what others wrote in their reviews portray that the whole book is strewn with bad scenes and thoughts. That’s not the case. After reading it myself, I feel the author included certain things so readers could understand the evilness and pagan society of Rome during that time. But, those parts of the story existed in conversation form, or, in a character’s thoughts. These characters did talk about sex in a way that goes against how Christians view it. But, you need to know that the characters in this conversation were the antagonists (aka. bad guys). Secondly, these antagonists are only mentioned having a conversation like this once or twice out of 500 pages. Thirdly, the Christian characters are not involved in such scenes/conversations. Overall, I don’t feel that sexual content was overemphasized in the story. I think readers were thrown off by the fact that the author didn’t try and candy coat the facts of what pagan society was like in this story. Simply put, evil was portrayed as evil. Because of that, when you read those parts, you didn’t feel good. I don’t feel like those parts of the story were intended to make the reader feel comfortable or entertained. In fact, I honestly think the point of those parts was to make you feel uncomfortable – and from the sounds of it, the author hit the mark. Though the immorality of ancient Rome can be difficult to read about at times, I don’t think Litfin did anyone a disservice by adding the parts he did so we could understand the evil and carnal minds the good characters were up against. It’s a heavy read at times, I will give it that. But please don’t think the whole book is about this one thing. It isn’t.
There are NO bedroom scenes in this book.
Characters are tempted by it – but do not indulge.
The antagonist and his wife do talk about it in a way Christians wouldn’t.
From the reviews, I also picked up that the last chapter also threw some readers. Exclamations like, “How could someone end a story like that?” were common. As a previous reader of Litfin, I know the author is going to take those experiences and build them into the next book. But if you haven’t read the Chiveis Trilogy to know that’s how Litfin typically ends his books, I can see how someone can be frustrated. My advice would be to wait until all three books are published, then binge them so when you read, there’s no break in the story.
Conclusion: Now that you’ve made it through all that, I’ll finally get around to my personal feelings about The Conqueror! This is a five star read for me. Even if it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I believe it’s a good book. I enjoyed how the heroine was a Christian who experienced persecution and the hero was an unbeliever in Constantine’s army who teetered back and forth between his German god and Jesus, the “new patron” of Constantine. There were epic journeys and hard truths to take in, but I loved the history behind the novel. The plot was top notch – the unpredictable kind that keeps you on the edge of your seat. I felt like I walked the streets of Rome and (kinda) understood the politics behind Rome when Constantine became emperor. There was a lot to take in (500 pages worth!) but I feel it was written and presented well. I can’t wait until book 2 is released this fall!