2019 (26 September) | 375p | Review copy | Buy the book
My love for Nick Brown’s Agent of Rome series knows no bounds and, having lapped up the first six and loved every moment of them, I was disappointed and saddened to learn that no more would be conventionally published. Cassius, Indavara and Simo were in very real danger of being left in the lurch, with no hope of resolution, especially for the bodyguard and ex-gladiator Indavara, a character who has grown and grown during the years and had reached such a critical point in his life. It was such a relief to learn that Nick Brown would be publishing the final seventh novel under his own steam. This is clearly a labour of love. It shines through every page. And it is of every bit as high a standard as the ones that went before, right down to the gorgeous cover. I am so grateful to the author for taking the series through to its conclusion. But what this does mean is that The Last Battle isn’t a book to start with. Instead, you must go back to the beginning and Agent of Rome: The Siege. This review assumes you know what has happened before.
It is AD 274 and the Roman Empire is divided. The Emperor Aurelian has control of Rome and has conquered most of his rivals. But the rival ’emperor’ Tetricus, after many years, still holds Gaul. Aurelian is determined that this state of affairs will end. He will take back the west. His legions are poised along the Rhone, ready to cross and seize control of Gaul. Tetricus knows what Aurelian is up to but he needs to know the detail. And so he sends his agent Volosus to abduct a key general in Aurelian’s plan. He will be taken to the formidable, inaccessible fortress of Ecytha for ‘questioning’. Time is of the essence. The general must be rescued before he can reveal Aurelian’s plans.
Cassius Corbulo, agent of Rome and spy, is young but his brief career has brought him glory, as well as severe hardship. His companions, the bodyguard Indavara and the servant Simo, a Christian, have been vital for Cassius’s survival and well-being. And now the three of them are sent to Ecytha to achieve the impossible – to sneak into the impregnable fortress and retrieve the general. Cassius is nearing the end of his five-year service. His home is tantalisingly close. Indavara, too, feels himself close to home, while Simo must reflect on how he will use the freedom Cassius will reward him with when the mission is done. Cassius, Indavara and Simo have reached a critical turning point. But first they must survive their mission.
The Last Battle is the seventh and final novel in the Agent of Rome series and it gives the series the ending it deserves. It is absolutely wonderful! If you’ve read any of these books (and if you enjoy Roman historical fiction then I’m sure you would have done) then you’ll know what a joy it is to spend time with these three damaged, trapped and immensely likeable individuals. Cassius is such a fascinating young man who has achieved so much, far more than anyone would expect. He’s clever and he’s also kind, albeit a little blind and gullible at times. Indavara has been through so much. He remains an enigma but the signs are there that he is a puzzle about to be cracked. It’s an immensely human and tender portrayal of a gladiatorial killing machine who has found his conscience. My favourite, though, is Simo. What a fantastic creation! He is Christian, and that puts him at odds with his pagan companions, but that unease is beautifully portrayed. We regularly meet key figures in early Christianity in these novels and The Last Battle is no different. Simo’s love for Patch the donkey is a humorous theme that has run through several novels now but it does such good service to Simo’s character. What is to happen to Simo when Cassius completes his tour of duty and how will Cassius manage without him? This occupies Simo’s mind.
This is such an exciting novel. The pages fly through the fingers. The action is almost relentless, and yet there are frequent moments to stop and draw breath. I loved the descriptions of Ecytha. This series has been consistently strong with its locations and this is just as true of The Last Battle. Because this is the last novel of the series, there are reminders of the past, including appearances by past characters. It all adds to the sense of occasion as well as closure.
There were tears… I didn’t want this series to end but I’m so thankful for the way in which it did end. This is fine writing and here we have characters that I love deeply. The author is to be congratulated for bringing the series to a fitting close. It’s emotional to read at times but I’m thankful for it. Several of my favourite Roman series have ended recently and here we have another one. But at least it means that the series is now complete for new readers keen to immerse themselves in this incredible period of history. I’m going to miss Simo….
Other reviews and features
Agent of Rome I: The Siege
Agent of Rome II: The Imperial Banner
Agent of Rome III: The Far Shore
An interview – The Far Shore>
Agent of Rome IV: The Black Stone (review followed by an interview with the author)
Agent of Rome V: The Emperor’s Silver
Agent of Rome VI: The Earthly Gods