Having thoroughly enjoyed the first in Anthony Riches’ Empire series, Wounds of Honour, I am delighted but not surprised that the second outing for Centurion Corvus and his brothers in arms is if anything even better.
The action, set in the 2nd century AD, still takes place on and around Hadrian’s Wall but now we know that little bit more about Marcus ‘Two Knives’ Corvus, Julius, Dubnus, Rufius, Felicia and the men of the 1st Tungrian Cohort. Chieftain Calgus continues to plot the demise of Roman rule on his land but this is not the only threat that young Corvus faces. Knowledge about his true identity is spreading amongst their rival cohort, the 2nd Tungrians, a situation which gets worse when the 2nd steals most of the replacements intended for the 1st, who were decimated during their heroic stand during the Battle of the Lost Eagle. Corvus’ bravery wins over the new Prefect Scaurus, with whom the young centurion makes a pact.
Marcus Corvus also takes the risky military decision to work with the only replacements available, two cohorts of Syrian archers, the Hamians, led by Qadir, a very likeable addition to the series. As time goes by, and despite the jeers of the Tungrians and in spite of being so far from terrain and warfare that’s familiar to them, the Hamians prove their honour. They don the armour, march at speed for miles until their feet bleed, and try to get to grips with the Roman spear (and the repartee that goes with it).
Throughout the Empire series, Anthony Riches’ expertise and learning in everything Roman military shines through and this knowledge adds a detail and authenticity that is unique. Daily life as a Roman soldier – in camp and on the march, battle scenes, skirmishes, medicine and, not least, the dialogue between soldiers, rings true. This is demonstrated in the transformation of the Hamians, in the soldiers’ code and in the action, which is jampacked throughout Arrows of Fury.
Not all of the Romans are good here – there is a very enjoyable baddie – and not all of the blue noses are bad. What matters is honour and valour and, if you have those, your origin is less important. After all, the Roman army, as we see here, was a right mix. Far away from the less than perfect influence of the emperor Commodus, the Tungrians fight their battles and make their own justice on the very edge of the empire.
The Empire series continues with Fortress of Spears, which is out now, and The Leopard Sword which is published in the New Year. I’m delighted to say that a fifth is also on the way. This is a series, and a bunch of people, I cannot get enough of.