Monsters of the Earth (2013) is the third Fantasy novel in the Books of the Elements series, following Out of the Waters . The initial volume in this sequence is The Legions of Fire .
In the previous volume, Varus was sitting in the Tribunal box over the right side of the stage in the Pompeian Theater. His father had been chosen as the replacement consul and destined governor of Lusitania on the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Gaius Saxa had sponsored a mime for the occasion and invited everyone in Carce to attend.
The original script was called The Conquest of Lusitania by Hercules. Varus was jotting notes about the mime on a waxed memo book. At the moment, twenty Cattle of the Sun were being led across the stage.
Hedia had visited the Underworld three days before and talked to Latus, her previous husband. Last night she had dreamed about three glass men. They were hurting Latus.
Alphena was watching Corylus in the knight's section. Corylus had not been showing any interest in her. Maybe he had been avoiding her for reasons of propriety?
In this novel, Gaius Alphenus Varus is the son of Gaius Alphenus Saxa, a Senator. He and Corylus have the same Rhetoric instructor and have become friends. Varus even lets Corylus take instruction and practice with swords in the family gymnasium.
Gaius Alphena is the daughter of Saxa. Her father is rather confused and lets her do many things. She is rather proficient with swords. Alphena has almost forgotten that she is a girl.
Hedia is Saxa's second wife. She had been married to his cousin, who died mysteriously. Hedia truly cares for Saxa and his children, but Alphena didn't like her stepmother. Since their latest adventure, they have become more like family to each other.
Publius Cispius is a former officer in the Carce legions. Since his retirement as a knight, he has started a perfume business. He is well known to the veterans around Carce.
Publius Corylus is a Knight of Carce and the son of Cispius. Corylus is an army brat and only wishes to become an army officer. But first he needs training in Philosophy and Rhetoric.
Marcus Pulto is Corylus's servant. He had been a striker for the senior Publius before they retired and had practically raised Corylus. Pulto married Anna when he retired.
Pandareus of Athens is a philosopher and instructor in Rhetoric for a dozen young men. Only Corylus and Varus are really serious about learning public speaking and other topics.
Marcus Veturius is an importer of wild animals for the games. He is a former comrade of Cispius, who helped him establish his business.
Quintus Macsturnas is a young citizen of Carce. He comes from an Etruscan family and has recently been elected as an aedile.
Paris is an Etruscan priest. He is a very angry man.
Lucinus claims to be the nephew of Vergil, the greatest Carcean poet.
In this story, Veturius has imported a new group of wild animals from Africa. Some were not known to him and he asked Cispius about finding someone who could identify them. So Cispius asked Corylus to view the animals and Corylus asked Varus.
Then Saxa decided to accompany his son and Alphena asked to go. Hedia also requested an invitation and was included. Then Quintus asked to join the party. He had bought the new group of animals and not yet seen them.
Varus wonders at the procession. With their servants, the visitors number over a hundred people. He compares the procession to the religious pilgrimages to the Sybil. He also notices that Paris is giving angry scowls toward Saxa and others, including himself.
Veturius asks them to order the servants to stay outside the walls of the compound. He is worried about the visitors being mauled by his animals. The narrow passages between the cages do not leave much room for crowds.
The significant visitors are shown into the compound. Once they are inside, an animal gives a great sound. Veturius takes them to see the very large African elephant staked to the ground.
The visitors have seen elephants before, but mostly the Indian breeds. Some have seen African elephants. This one, however, is at least four feet taller than any others they have seen.
Then Veturius shows them the unrecognized animals. They have scales like lizards, but look like apes. Varus fades away from reality into a vision that show these lizards fighting in armor.
Meanwhile, Veturius tells about a handler that purposely let the scaled apes starve. His body was found inside their cage, where they were eating it. Corylus wonders why the man got into cage or how the lizard men got out.
Afterward, Corylus and Pulto go into a nearby bar and are approached by Lucinus. He shows them a scrap of palimpsest containing a passage, which he says was written by his uncle. When Corylus points out that the text comes from the Aeneid, the man claims to be Vergil's nephew.
This tale introduces a new threat to Carce. Varus has seen great crystalline worms eating the world. Lucinus says that they will be released soon by Melino unless he retrieves a book of magic from an island.
Alphena has dreams and then sees the same scene in an illusion by Melino. Hedia visits Melino and finds him not very interested in her body. Pandareus accompanies Alphena on a search for an egg.
Varus learns that he is a magician. The next installment in this sequence -- Air and Darkness -- has not yet been announced on Amazon.
Highly recommended for Drake fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of classical magic, world savers, and very competent women. Read and enjoy!
-Arthur W. Jordin