When I was ten I picked up a copy of Geza Gardonyi's Slave of the Huns in my school library. Since I knew little about the Huns or the history of the Fifth Century I borrowed the book and took it home. It quickly became my favourite book and I think I read it about 17 times, as kids often do.
That was 27 years ago. I recently found a copy of the novel through Amazon and quickly ordered it. It arrived last week and I am reviving my childhood memories by re-reading it now.
It was originally written in 1901 in Hungarian as *Lathatalan ember*, but was translated into English in 1969. It tells the story of Zeta, a Greek slave from Thrace who accompanies the Eastern Roman Imperial envoy Priscus to the camp of Attila the Hun on the Hungarian Plain. There he falls in love with Emmo, the daughter of a Hunnic lord Chath, and so he decides to stay with the Huns in the hope of winning her love.
The climax of the book is Attila's invasion of Gaul in 451 and the lengthy and remarkable battle scene as Zeta takes part in the massive Battle of Chalons between Attila and Aetius. The remarkable thing about the book is that, since it is written by a Hungarian, the action is entirely from the Huns' side of the story. To the Hungarians, Attila is a national hero and the detailed reconstruction of life amongst these nomads along with this sympathy for their perspective makes the book quite remarkable. To English-speaking readers, for whom Attila is a by-word for barbarism and violence, this novel's depiction of him as a charismatic, wise and beloved leader seems odd, but it is entirely in keeping with the evidence we have about him.
It is a pity this novel is out of print, because it is a great piece of writing and still informative and entertaining for readers of any age. Gardonyi did a great deal of research for the book and, while he gets many things wrong (he has his Huns using stirrups and horse-shoes and includes some mythical tribes in Attila's army) the attention to detail and the realism of the writing is remarkable.
Highly recommended - a wonderful book.