Headline | 2016 (17 November) | 360p | Review copy | Buy the book
Prefect Cato and Centurion Macro march across the pages once more in this, the fifteenth novel in Simon Scarrow’s ever popular and thoroughly entertaining Eagles of the Empire series. One of the reasons why I enjoy this series so much is that many of the books stand alone even while the personal stories of Macro and especially Cato develop. As a result, if you’ve not read any before and fancy seeing why so many readers love them so much without going all the way back to the beginning, you can dive in almost wherever you wish and then catch up at your own pace. Invictus is one book in the series that stands alone very well, with the one proviso that you’ll learn quite a bit more about what’s been going on in Cato’s private life.
Cato and Macro have arrived back in Rome from Britannia, expecting to be held to account for the fierce fighting and severe losses suffered by the Roman army on those stubborn islands. But instead the two men get caught up in the Emperor Claudius’ triumph celebrating the capture of famous chieftain Caratacus. The line between traitor and hero is finely drawn in these dangerous times. Plots are rife in Rome as the power struggle rages full ahead over the succession to the imperial throne and, not for the first time, Cato and Macro are assigned sides. Before they can draw breath, they are sent off to Hispania to take a leading role in a campaign to subdue a local rebellion that threatens to take over the emperor’s silver mines. The very stability of the region is at stake but, never mind that, Claudius’ silver is at risk.
I have been looking forward to reading Invictus ever since the publication last year of Britannia, the previous novel in this much loved series. I will admit to some sadness on learning that Cato and Macro had left Britannia and were about to embark in another part of the empire. I have really enjoyed the recent ‘Return to Britannia’ run and I did wonder what would come next. But I worried needlessley – if anything, Invictus turned out to be among my favourites of the whole series.
This isn’t the only novel I’ve read this year about trouble in the mines of Roman Spain but Invictus is its own novel, focusing on the ways in which Cato and Macro pull their new force – Praetorian Guards, no less – together to try and pull victory from the jaws of defeat. This is such a thrilling and exciting novel. Time after time, the Romans are outnumbered and must fight for their lives, culminating in something I cannot get enough of in Roman military fiction when done well – the siege. And this siege is done very well indeed.
I enjoy Cato and Macro so much. After all this time you might have thought that they have nothing new to learn about each other but they do. And Cato has much on his mind for Macro to discover. Cato also spends time thinking about the rights and wrongs of Roman imperial rule, which is all to the good because these silver mines epitomise the cruelty and brutality of Roman conquest. Matters are less complicated for Macro. Blood and gore, as you’d expect, play a vital role in Invictus. The action never lets up. And there are some gloriously hideous wounds to deal with.
If I had to pick fault with Invictus, then it would be for its treatment of one female character in particular who is turned into little more than a plot device. However, Invictus as a piece of Roman military historical fiction does everything else right. The story is such a good one, bringing in the politics from one of the most fascinating periods of Roman history while showing us the impact of Roman rule on another part of the empire. Macro and Cato are at their best, fighting to keep their men alive, while Cato battles to keep his demons at bay. I had no desire to put this book down and devoured it in a couple of sittings. This series is going through a golden period and, if I had to pick a favourite, Invictus would certainly be in contention.