The novel concerns a rural village magistrate, whose easy life is disturbed by the arrival of soldiers preparing to fight the barbarian hordes that threaten the Empire. The prose is simple, direct. No flashy wordplay or obscure metaphors. It does not get in the way of the story. Number of times the word "quiddity" used: 0.
The obvious question in the story is who exactly are the barbarians - the largely unseen nomads who roam the plains and mountains, or the soldiers and villagers who grow increasingly hysterical over the non-existent threat. But there are more subtle themes in here too: what makes a man? Should you ever give up decency and honour in return for safety?