Preface | 2017 (23 March) | 343p | Review copy | Buy the book
It’s been six years since Rome suffered its most infamous defeat in the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in AD 9. Three legions were destroyed and their eagles stolen by German tribes united under the leadership of Arminius, a man who once served Rome. The loss of the eagles and the betrayal by Arminius continue to grieve Rome, so much so that the few survivors of the defeat are no longer allowed within the walls of Rome. Senior Centurion Lucius Cominius Tullus didn’t just survive the battle, he saved more Roman lives than anyone else, and now he is doing what he can to atone for the shame he continues to bear. Tullus has re-entered the forest, he has taken the fight back to the tribes, he helped to restore one of the lost eagles. But it wasn’t his. Although Tullus is now an important member of the Fifth legion, promoted higher and higher, and worships its eagle, it’s the eagle of the Eighteenth that Tullus is determined to kneel before once again.
Eagles in the Storm completes Ben Kane’s magnificent trilogy on the the Battle of Teutoburg Forest and its bloody aftermath. You are well advised to begin this story at its beginning – this review assumes you have done so – with the superb Eagles at War. I’ve been fascinated by this battle for longer than I can remember and Eagles at War is now, for me, the definitive fictional account of this devastating and truly terrifying ambush and battle. In Hunting the Eagles, the second novel, the aftermath of the battle is explored, including its contribution to mutiny within Rome’s northern legions and their subsequent attempts to win back the eagles, led by the general Germanicus, nephew to the emperor Tiberius, and his centurion, Tullus. As Eagles in the Storm begins, Tullus once more prepares to take on Arminius.
Eagles in the Storm is divided between Tullus, the small band of legionaries who have followed Tullus since the beginning, and the other side – Arminius and his efforts to bring together once again tribes that appear to hate him almost as much as they hate the Romans. The fight is more personal than ever for Arminius now. Everyone has lost loved ones in Rome’s avenging raids and Arminius is no different.
Ben Kane, as always, has an extraordinary talent of making us feel that we are there with these soldiers, not only in the heat of the battle but also on the march, in camp, and off duty. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of a legionary camp. After three novels, we know these men well, especially legionary Piso and his fellow tentmen, who always seem to find some way to entertain themselves (i.e., get into trouble) during the monotony of life on the march. But there is a serious side to these soldiers as well, particularly in their devotion to their new eagle and their desire to set eyes again on their old. The meaning and significance of the eagle plays a crucial role in this final novel.
Tullus is a fantastic character. He is revered across the legion for his bravery. Even Germanicus listens to him and in this novel Germanicus has yet more reason to be grateful to him. Tullus is intimidating but he loves his men. They know it and they love him back. It’s not sentimentalised. It’s just the way it is. There is a real contrast between Tullus and Arminius. Arminius isn’t presented as a villain. He was fighting for a cause he believed in, for the freedom of his people against an invading oppressor. But Arminius has to look over his shoulder constantly – Tullus doesn’t.
The battle sequences are so thrilling and they set the pace for the novel, although I enjoyed the other sections of Eagles in the Storm every bit as much. This is brilliant storytelling from an author who is steeped in the history of the Romans, and he fills it with all the details, military and otherwise, you need to make it feel real.
Ben Kane is an author whose books will always go to the top of my reading mountain, without fail. This has been a wonderful trilogy – one of the very best that I’ve read. Although I’m sorry it’s finished I can’t be sorry about the way in which it’s been finished – it concludes perfectly. And I know that I’ll be hanging on to every word as we embark on Ben Kane’s next project, whatever that might be.
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