Corgi | 2010, Pb 2011 | 480p | Bought copy | Buy the book
It is AD 59 and Roman officer Gaius Valerius Verrens is finishing off his tour of duty to Britain as tribune to the Twentieth Legion while they’re stationed in the Severn Valley. For now all seems calm but the British tribes are growing restless as demands for tax, subservience and control increase. The situation is aggravated by the Druids. Most are now hiding away on an island off the coast of north Wales but one young Druid left behind, Gwlym, is growing in influence. Valerius is a natural soldier and leader and he has more than one opportunity to show his skill with the sword before he is sent to Colonia in the east of the province to await his orders to return to Rome where he can begin the next stage of his career on the way to the Senate. But there’s someone who has something to say about that and her name is Boudicca.
Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni, is on the rampage. Whipped and humiliated by the Romans, her daughters raped, her lands seized, Boudicca is after Roman blood and thousands flock to her banner. Colonia stands between Boudicca and London. Valerius with so few men is given orders to work with Colonia’s local militia of retired legionaries to stop Boudicca’s army in its tracks. It’s a terrible task.
Hero of Rome, published in 2010, began a series that rapidly became one of my very favorites of all series, whatever the genre, and it started it in spectacular fashion. Its centrepiece, the siege of Valerius and the Roman forces and townspeople inside Colonia’s enormous Temple of Claudius, a symbol of Roman might if ever there was one, is phenomenal and remains one of the best action sequences I’ve ever read. Perhaps its closest rival is the siege of Jerusalem in another of this series, Scourge of Rome.
But re-reading Hero of Rome reminds me that there is much more to this fantastic, thoroughly exciting novel than the Temple of Claudius sequence (although reading it again, it was every bit as brilliant as it was the first time). This is a substantial novel, after all. We spend time getting to know Valerius and his men and it is so good to meet the tribune again as a young man. The series has very recently finished with the excellent Hammer of Rome, set over twenty years after the events of Hero of Rome and the mature Valerius is a very different man from the one we first meet here. But perhaps that’s not surprising because the siege of the temple at Colonia and its aftermath is life-changing for Valerius in more ways than one.
I’ve said it more than once and I’ll say it again – it’s been an absolute joy to read the nine books that comprise the Hero of Rome series. I’ve loved every step of the way. Douglas Jackson knows this period inside out and the books are packed full of historical and military details, and Gaius Valerius Verrens is a worthy, unusual hero. Now that the series is complete, it’s the perfect time to read it, if you haven’t had the pleasure already.