Hodder & Stoughton | 2023 (16 February) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book
It is 193 AD and the grand plan of Marcus, Scaurus, Dubnus and their comrades to escape the clutches of the Roman war machine once and for all founders when their ship home is met by soldiers who have one job, and that is to recruit any man who can stand up into the ranks of the Roman army. There is a new emperor on the throne, Septimius Severus, and his mission is to destroy the ‘imposter’ emperor of the East, Niger – once he’s seen off another imposter in Rome, of course. The heroic reputations of Scaurus and his men proceed them and it’s not long before Severus dispatches them eastwards on a suicide mission – to take on Niger with only one legion, delaying him while Severus prepares an almighty army to crush him underfoot. The mission is accepted. It will be at a great cost.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this series since its beginning, thirteen books ago, and I am so pleased to see it continue into what the author describes as its ‘second cycle’. This means that there is much more to come and that makes me very happy indeed! It’s difficult to review a book this deep into a long-running series without giving anything away from before. Suffice to say that Storm of War does mark a kind of new beginning for our favourite Roman centurions and tribunes. This means that if you haven’t read any of the other books then you could start here. There are also some handy little catch-ups in the story, which recaps Marcus’s struggles from the past – not to mention his less than ideal relationships with past emperors!
Storm of War introduces some new characters to the series, including the tour de force that is Septimius Severus. What a man he is! Anthony Riches does a great job bringing this powerful, charismatic and utterly terrifying man to life and his scenes with Scaurus and Marcus are among my favourite moments of the novel. I think only Scaurus and Marcus could stand up to him. There is a sense that they have nothing to lose but honour and that they can never lose.
There is action throughout, including a battle, which feels different from most others in Roman military fiction. I think this is partly because this is civil war and the soldiers fight men they have previously served beside. It’s a dirty battle, harrowing and…. well, you must read it. But there’s more to the novel than battles, there are journeys, spies, great bits on boats, and it’s told with expertise and humour.
The author likes to take us to the limit of what we can endure with these deeply loved characters and I will admit I was as traumatised as I was gripped! This is a great story about a time of Roman history I know relatively little and the author certainly knows his stuff when it comes to Roman military action and keeping his readership on the edge of its seat.
And what a cover!
Other reviews and features
Empire I: Wounds of Honour
Empire II: Arrows of Fury
Empire III: Fortress of Spears
Empire IV: The Leopard Sword
Empire V: The Wolf’s Gold
Empire VI: The Eagle’s Vengeance
Empire VII: The Emperor’s Knives
Empire VIII: Thunder of the Gods
Empire X: The Scorpion’s Strike
Empire IX: Altar of Blood
Empire X: The Scorpion’s Strike
Empire XI: River of Gold
Empire XII: Vengeance
Betrayal: The Centurions I
Onslaught: The Centurions II
Retribution – The Centurions III
An interview for The Eagle’s Vengeance
An interview for The Emperor’s Knives