The novella “To Bring the Light” by David Drake was published for the first time in 1996.
Flavia Herosilla is a well educated woman who lives in the imperial Rome when she is hit by a storm and almost struck by lightning. Stunned, she struggles to recover full consciousness and when she does it she realizes that she’s no longer in the same place. Somehow she traveled back in time to the period when Rome was about to be founded.
David Drake is famous mainly as a military science fiction and fantasy author but with “To Bring the Light” wrote a story centered on time travel and its consequences which is an explicit tribute to the novel “Lest Darkness Fall” by L. Sprague de Camp . For this reason, these two works have been published in the same book in a number of editions, sometimes along with other stories inspired by the classic “Lest Darkness Fall”.
The protagonist of “To Bring the Light” Flavia Herosilla travels in time like the protagonist of “Lest Darkness Fall”. In this novella, however, there’s a woman who grew up in the Imperial Rome who end up about a millennium in her past, in the period immediately preceding the city’s foundation.
Like L. Sprague de Camp, David Drake reconstructs the history of the period in which his story unfolds, with the difference that Flavia Herosilla must try to use her knowledge of what for her is the past to make sure Rome is recularly founded. One of the problems she faces is to separate the historical events from the many legends created around them.
The part I found most intriguing about “To Bring the Light” is exactly the way David Drake tells the foundation of Rome mixing history and legends, adding his fictional interpretation. Flavia Herosilla knows enough about the history of her city but has to deal with the real Romulus and Remus, not with their legendary versions.
“To Bring the Light” is well constructed because it shows the differences between the villages existing before the birth of Rome and the Roman empire at the peak of its greatness and wealth. For Flavia Herosilla that past is ugly and above all dirty, a reason to do anything to avoid changes in the timeline that might prevent the birth and development of Rome.
David Drake does all this work in a novella, without loading the narration with too much infodump, adding the right details here and there along with Flavia Herosilla’s reactions. This allows to keep a fast pace and have some development at least for the main characters. It’s for these reasons that in my opinion “To Bring the Light” is a very good novella and I recommend reading it.