Bantam Press | 2017 (10 August) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book
It is 77 AD and life is going well for Hero of Rome, Gaius Valerius Verrens. Valerius is a prosperous landowner, living with his much loved wife and son in their villa a few miles from Rome’s city walls. But while Valerius is confident of the friendship and patronage of the Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus, Valerius has a dangerous enemy in Domitian, Vespasian’s younger son. When Domitian goes after Valerius’ little son, Valerius knows he must remove his family from Rome. The opportunity comes from Vespasian who orders Valerius to the province of Britannia where he will serve as the emperor’s legate, a position second only in importance to Britannia’s new governor, Julius Agricola.
It’s seventeen years since Britannia was burnt and torn in the Boudiccan Revolt but enough time has past for some of the tribes to grumble and for the power of the druids to re-emerge, focused upon the island of Mona. Inspired by Gwylm, his chief druid, the High King of the Ordovices, Owain, is gathering the warriors of northern Wales for an attack on Agricola’s legions. The bait was easy to set. The tribal army wiped out a Roman fort in the north Welsh hills, its chief officer cruelly killed and displayed as a message to Agricola. The governor responds and prepares his army to march. But he needs help. The commander of the Ninth Legion has been murdered. None is better placed to assume his post than Valerius Verrens, one of only two men to survive Boudicca’s infamous assault on the Temple of Claudius in Camulodunon all those years ago. Valerius’ reputation proceeds him but the danger ahead is as deadly as any he has faced in the past.
If you have any liking at all for Roman historical fiction, or indeed any historical fiction, then there’s a very good chance that you’re already a devoted fan of Douglas Jackson’s Hero of Rome series. What a fantastic writer Douglas Jackson is! But his fine words are backed up by two other strengths: the innate ability to tell a marvellous story; and meticulous and thorough historical and military research and insight. Glory of Rome is the eighth novel in the Hero of Rome series and it proves yet again how much life is left in the story of Gaius Valerius Verrens. There have been highpoints in this series over the years – the siege of the Temple of Claudius, told in the very first book Hero of Rome, and the battle for Jerusalem, the subject of Scourge of Rome – but Glory of Rome fights with both of these for my favourite book of them all.
If you haven’t read any of the books then I think you could read Glory of Rome as a stand alone. Life has moved on for our hero since the previous novel Saviour of Rome and, in some ways, Glory of Rome represents a new beginning for Valerius. Valerius has new companions-in-arms and it’s fascinating to watch their role and loyalty develop through the book. There is a big gap in Valerius’ life to be filled and this novel goes a long way to do just that. I would definitely recommend that you read the earlier books first – they cover seventeen years of Valerius’ life – but if you start with this one then it may well make you want to return to the start. Valerius is famous among Rome’s armies for the loss of his arm. You really need to go back to Hero of Rome to see the circumstances of that. And it has repercussions for the events of Glory of Rome as Valerius, now much older and with wife and child, returns to Britannia.
The story told in Glory of Rome is fantastic and it has a brilliant start as we’re thrown into a tense and volatile situation in northern Wales. We’re also given a glimpse of a Londinium that has been rebuilt since the Boudiccan Revolt and I love how this is depicted, but the focus is on Wales. Valerius has more than one problem on his hands – he must bring together his new bodyguard of misfits, he must discover what happened to Fronto, the legate he’s replaced, and must take the Ninth Legion to war against thousands of tribal warriors. Then there’s the other matter of spies. Somewhere in Agricola’s company of officers is a spy reporting back to Domitian in Rome. But who is it?
Glory of Rome is a thrilling novel from the outset and culminates in a brilliant battle sequence that had me on the edge of my seat. Valerius is determined not to repeat the shame of Varus who lost his legions’ eagles in the forests of Germania. He will die protecting it and he is fully prepared to do that. Valerius is older and wiser than in the earlier books. He is responsible for his family as well as his men. He will not let them down. Valerius is not the man he once was and he is prepared to be cruel. It’s a fascinating portrait of a man we’ve grown close to over the years and I was riveted to it. I also loved the references to Douglas Jackson’s first novels about Rome and Roman Britain, Caligula and Claudius.
Glory of Rome is not a book I read quickly. I savoured every line, every page. It is written so well and there is so much in it and with so much promise for future novels (Roman Britain needs Valerius). It is astonishing what Douglas Jackson is achieving with this series. We’re lucky to have it. Long may it continue.