The Rome You’ve Never Imagined

 

The Mirror and the Mage, by D.W. Frauenfelder

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One of the most popular genres on the book market these days is one of the magical reality sort. In high level literature, you see books and stories in this genre by the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez—fabulistic, charming pieces. In popular fiction you have the likes of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, in which the magical moments are expanded, almost to the point of separate worlds. And in what’s generally taken to be non-fiction, you have the Carlos Castaneda books. Frauenfelder seems to be aware of all three sub-genres in The Mirror and The Mage, and he walks an elliptical line that sometimes touches all three.

Lucius Junius Brutus is a young Roman yuppie-type who is destined for bigger things; while he wants to become trained as a warrior, but is obliged to enter the priesthood. He receives such training from two elders, Glyph and Logophilus, who teach him grammar and how to make it physically act in combatting monsters threatening Rome. He’s taught to use a baculum, or a magical cane (think Moses’ cane, the walking sticks in the Harry Potter series, and other such examples) which, accompanied by the proper use of Latin grammar, can be commanded to do spectacular things. Along with a girl, Demetria, Lucius is able to enter another reality through the device of a mirror. And this involves his ultimate quest, along with Glyph, Demetria, and the baculum.

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Frauenfelder’s story is ingeniously paced as the elders slowly push Lucius into grave danger—a danger that threatens his and the elders’ well-being—as well as that of Rome. There’s a preoccupation, as Frauenfelder unfurls his story, with Latin grammar that might well annoy casual readers, but I suspect that the author, who teaches Latin to gifted youth, has an academic agenda here—making Latin and its complex grammar seem less so by unfolding it within his story. And it’s a story as charming as any in this genre.
My rating 18 of 20 stars.

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