Valeria’s Cross by Kathi Macias and Susan Wales is a fictionalised account of the life and death of third century Roman empress Galeria Valeria, daughter of Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus and wife of Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus.
The story of Galeria Valeria is a dramatic one, a tale of love and loss, temptation and sorrow, drawn across a vivid background of political maneuvering and the weight of history, the glory of the Roman Empire, and the harsh realities of the Great Persecution.
Valeria is a princess, born to the Emperor of Rome and his wife and raised in the lap of luxury. Whilst her father is campaigning in Gaul (France), Valeria and her mother are sent to the imperial palace on the Egyptian isle of Elephantine, today part of the city of Aswan. There Valeria meets the fictional young Mauritius, a captain of the Roman Army’s Theban Legion, and quickly falls head over heels in love with him. But Mauritius is called away to Gaul, and Valeria’s dreams come tumbling down around her.
Anyone familiar with the tale of the Martyrs of Agaunum will know what reportedly happened to the Theban Legion: they were executed as martyrs whilst on campaign. Mauritius was amongst those killed, and once word reaches Valeria she falls into a deep despair.
Fate has only begun to play with the Roman princess. Whilst still in mourning for her dead love, Valeria’s father marries her to Galerius, the general believed to have orchestrated the decimation of the Theban Legion, who Valeria has hated since she first laid eyes on him. But things do not go quite as Valeria had planned – her husband seems kinder now than he ever was before, and she soon finds herself yearning for his touch and enjoying his company. She quickly comes to love his infant son, Candidianus, as her own, and her feelings for Galerius himself soon deepen.
But Galerius is not always a kind man, and with his prodding the Emperor, himself a pagan follower of the ancient Roman gods, begins the Great Persecution and causes the deaths of thousands of Valeria’s fellow Christians. Valeria must reconcile her love for her father and husband with the grave indignities they commit upon her religious brethren, and upon Valeria herself…
This is not a romance novel. As with many tales based on historical figures, this book does not have a happy ending. It is strong on the religious (early Christian) element, and may not appeal to all audiences. A lot of people die, and most of them are executed in one way or another.
While not an expert by any means, I am something of a history geek, and I enjoyed the way historical events were brought to life and embellished upon. The details of the conflicts and wars that took place during Valeria’s life were mostly glossed over – normally I dislike “tell, not show”, but in this case, I am quite happy this book did not turn into a large list of who fought who when and what happened. I found the brief amounts of information conveyed the general sense of the Roman political climate, without overloading the reader with details they would not care to know about.
The language used throughout is modern and easy to read, and the authors go to great pains to attempt to explain some of the cultural and political concepts without providing another source of information overload. I did find some of the modern word-choice and phrasing rather incongruous in a historical setting, though I realise that often doesn’t bother other readers. It bothered me quite a lot that about a third of the way through the book, the characters change from using ‘Gaul’ to using ‘France’, when the inclusion of Gaul in the Frankish Empire dates around a century later than the book’s timeline, and the establishment of the Kingdom of France itself didn’t take place for another 500 years or so.
Overall, this book was enjoyable, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, with emphasis on the fiction.