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Old Book Review: The Darkness and the Dawn by Thomas B. Costain

August 15, 2022

When I saw a hardback copy of The Darkness and the Dawn by Thomas B. Costain in the used book store, I said, “I remember this book.”

I actually said it out loud. I still talk to myself sometimes, even in public. I didn’t say it very loudly, though. I don’t think anybody heard me; all the other used book shoppers were too busy mumbling to themselves to pay attention to what I was saying.

From my point of view, The Darkness and the Dawn is kind of an old book. It was published in 1959, and I remember that I had read my dad’s copy of it, I think when I was in high school. I remembered Attila the Hun and a major battle between the Huns and the Romans. I remember enjoying the book at the time.

The cover of The Darkness and the Dawn is kind of misleading because it makes the book look like the main characters are a girl and a horse. Yes, the girl and the horse are important, but they’re not the main characters. The horse is known as the fastest in the racing world, and the girl is the only person that the horse lets ride him, so, of course, a bunch of men fall in love with the young woman. Even Attila the Hun becomes obsessed with her.

I guess back then an attractive woman riding a horse was like a hot chick driving a manual transmission today. Something about being able to handle a stick shift makes a young woman even more attractive to men. At least, that was true in the 1980s. My wife drove a manual transmission when I met her back in the early 1990s. When I saw she could do that, I thought, “Yeah, she’s a keeper.”

Our relationship started going downhill when she switched to an automatic. I never should have let that happen.


Anyway, here’s a sample page from The Darkness and the Dawn that I thought was interesting:


BOOK REVIEW-The Darkness and the Dawn isn’t as good as I remember. The first half of this book was entertaining, with the main character Nicolan serving the Roman general Aetius as a slave, escaping, and then serving Attila the Hun. Nicolan despises Roman decadence and thinks the world would be better off with Attila as an emperor/ruler. Most novels today would have made the Battle of Chalons the climax, but here it’s in the middle of the book.

The main character is so handsome that women fall in love with him, and he’s so intelligent that Attila the Hun requires his services. This guy would have been too much of a genetic freak to have the humility that he did. To be fair, he didn’t seduce/rape any women in this book (as has happened in several novels from the 1940s-1960s that I’ve read).

After the major battle in the middle of the novel, it feels like the author Costain lost interest. Events fall into place for the protagonists. Coincidences happen conveniently, and problems are solved without much sacrifice. I mean, I don’t wish for horrible things to happen to characters, but it all kind of sucked. So if you read The Darkness and the Dawn, just read The Darkness part in the first half.

I’m still glad I found this copy of The Darkness and the Dawn. It brought back some pleasant memories, and I actually enjoyed the first half. If I see it again in the used book store, though, I’ll probably just nod my head at the memory. I don’t think The Darkness and the Dawn will cause me to talk to myself again.

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