Category Archives: Review

Storm of War (Empire XIII) by Anthony Riches

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

The English Führer by Rory Clements

Zaffre | 2023 (19 January) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

It is the autumn of 1945. The war is over but not for everyone. While many war criminals wait in their cells for trial, others have hidden themselves and continue the work of their Führer or emperor. A Japanese submarine reaches the end of its very long journey at the quiet town of Flowthorpe. It’s not long before many of the inhabitants become extremely ill and the town is sealed off by the military. Former spy Tom Wilde has returned to his job as Professor of History at Cambridge University but he is not to be left in peace. He is given the task of investigating a suspected ring of fascists who will stop at nothing to keep their cause alive, with a new leader, here in England. Tom and his wife Lydia are right to be concerned. They are told that their names are on a Nazi hitlist. Others on that list are already murdered. England has never been more dangerous for Professor Tom Wilde and his family.

The English Führer is the seventh novel in a series that I have loved from the beginning. They are usually published in January and it’s hard to imagine a better way to start off the reading year. You can read any of them on their own but I recommend reading them as a series. We have been on a dangerous journey with Tom and Lydia from before the war with Tom’s undercover missions taking him to the heart of Nazi Germany. It’s so good to learn that the series continues even though the war is over. Now the trouble is all on home shores.

Rory Clements is such a good writer of spy novels set in any period. Tom Wilde is an expert on Elizabethan espionage, which is a wonderful reference to the author’s other novels set in the 16th century. Parallels are found between the past and present and Tom has learnt much from Elizabeth I’s spymaster Walsingham. I really enjoy the idea of a history professor transforming himself into a spy. But the fact that he appears in the hit list shows just how well he performed that role. His wife Lydia has had a secondary role for later books in the series and so it is good to have her back for this book. There is something very appealing about Lydia.

The English Führer tells a great story, complex at times, as you might expect from a spy novel. It’s impossible to know who to trust and Tom and Lydia find themselves in very real danger. These novels have always considered the nature of evil and here we discover what can happen to it when it is driven underground or, worse, is found to be useful by the victorious nations.

I think the novel suffers a little from not including one of Tom’s missions abroad but this is a minor point. It’s an excellent novel that continues a series I really don’t want to be without and I heartily recommend it.

Other reviews
Holy Spy

Hitler’s Secret
A Prince and a Spy
The Man in the Bunker

The Twist of a Knife by Anthony Horowitz

Century | 2022 | 384p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

Everything is looking up for our author Anthony Horowitz. His play Mindgame is about to open on the London stage, which means he can finally finish his uneasy literary partnership with former detective Daniel Hawthorne. All is well on opening night and Anthony has reason to be optimistic as he waits at the afterparty for the first reviews to come in. Shockingly, The Sunday Times’ famous critic Harriet Throsby savages the play and its author. It’s the end of the line for the play. It’s also the end of the line for the critic. The next day Harriet is found stabbed, killed by an ornamental knife. Anthony Horowitz owns one very much like it…. The detective in charge has a grudge against Anthony. Daniel Hawthorne might be worth knowing after all.

The Daniel Hawthorne books, of which this is the fourth, are among the most witty, clever and dastardly books that I have ever read. They take apart crime fiction and crime writing and throw it all back together again in a way that leaves the reader, particularly this one, astounded. The fact that the author is one of the two main protagonists, giving astonishing proceedings an air of authenticity and truth, adds an extra edge of fabulous audacity! Anthony tells us everything. He’s at pains to be open with us, to justify himself, and to get things off his chest, especially about Daniel Hawthorne. Daniel is an enigma to Anthony and to us, even though, of course, Anthony Horowitz has created him.

Quite apart from the cleverness of the concept, and the truly brilliant way in which it is delivered, giving the reader all sorts of insight into what life may or may not be like for a successful novelist, The Twist of a Knife is a fantastic crime novel. It has a great plot which, as the title suggests, is as twisty as you could wish, and the characters are so enjoyable, not least the  greatly feared Harriet Throsby. The idea that literary critics are being targeted is developed with relish.

As with the other novels, The Twist of a Knife is hugely entertaining and very witty, largely due to its narrator who, in this novel above all others, has much to prove, especially to the police.

I listened to the audiobook, which was read so well by Rory Kinnear. I recommend it!

Other revews
Magpie Murders
The Moonflower Murders
The Word is Murder
The Sentence is Death
A Line to Kill

Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris

Hutchinson Heinemann | 2022 (1 September) | 480p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

It is 1660 and the restoration of King Charles II leads to one of the greatest manhunts in history – the pursuit of the Regicides. All those who signed the death warrant of Charles I and took part in his execution in 1649 had a price on their head. Even those who had died peacefully in their beds were exhumed and strung up. And any foolish enough to come forward on the promise of an amnesty and forgiveness paid the ultimate price for their misplaced trust. Edward Whalley and his son-in-law William Goffe led forces under Cromwell and flourished. Now they have run almost as far as they can – to New England and the safe houses of republican Boston. But, when regicide hunter Richard Naylor picks up their scent, nowhere is safe, because nothing will stop this man who has his own personal reasons for vengeance. The past can not be forgiven.

Over the years, Robert Harris has become one of my very favourite authors. His novels are incredibly varied and he has a genius for finding mystery and thrills in the most unexpected places, even in the selection of a new pope in Conclave. What an amazing novel that is. He is also the author of my favourite historical novels, Pompeii, and those other fantastic Roman novels about Cicero. He can also turn history on its head, as we saw with The Second Sleep, or go straight to the heart of the matter in real historical events, as in Munich. Now we go back to the 17th century and the repercussions of the execution of a King. Such an act is of such magnitude that it must tear the world apart and only justice can heal the wound. Richard Naylor, the fictional character of the novel, is almost inhuman in his determination, neither good nor evil, but resolute and damaged to his core.

Act of Oblivion follows both stories, that of the hunter and that of the hunted, on both sides of the Atlantic. I found both stories equally fascinating and the detail of  London and Boston, so completely different, as well as other developing settlements in New England, completely absorbing. There is such a sense of new and old, forward and backward. But this is a Robert Harris novel and so nothing is straightforward and it’s not long before the waters are muddied.

There is something truly epic in the efforts of Whalley and Goffe to escape capture, as well as in the stoic endurance suffered by Whalley’s daughter and Goffe’s wife, in her love and the strength that it feeds. On one level, it is a thoroughly exciting adventure, with something of the Wild West about it as Whalley and Goffe hide in the most unlikely places, just a breath away from capture. There are also political discussions – the execution of the King is an act that requires justification to all, including those who did the deed. London and Boston are worlds away from one another and yet, as Harris shows, a cause can be no more noble than the men who fight for it. Adding to the intrigue are the reminiscences of Whalley and Goffe of the extraordinary man who made them, leading to their destruction – Oliver Cromwell.

While the reader can sympathise with and admire Whalley and Goffe for what they must endure, there is also cause for deep loathing. Likewise, Naylor also deserves pity and understanding. He is not a monster of his own making. I loved how caught up I became in these lives. Some of what happens here has passed into American folklore. There are some incredible moments! This is a novel every bit as exciting as you would want from a cat and mouse hunt to the death. It is also brilliantly written by an author who knows exactly where to focus, whatever the period of history, whoever the people involved. Outstanding.

Other reviews
An Officer and a Spy

The Second Sleep

Domitian by Simon Turney

Canelo Adventure | 2022 (22 October) | 415p | Review copy | Buy the book

Domitian was, through many of his formative years, the heir and spare to an ambitious general, a sometime challenger to the imperial throne and then the emperor himself, Vespasian. It wasn’t easy living through, in one piece, the reigns of Nero and the subsequent conveyor belt of ill-equipped and doomed emperors, and Domitian suffered as much as anyone, seeing family members murdered. But Domitian survived because he turned his seeming unimportance into a talent, creating a spy network that would see him out of all sorts of trouble and push his family ever upwards. He was an observer of everyone while being observed by none, except by his noble friend and political tutor Nerva, who takes some time out, in the aftermath of it all, to tell us all about it. You won’t want to turn away.

Domitian is one of the most famous of the infamous Roman Emperors and a suitable subject for Simon Turney’s Damned Emperors series, or Naughty Emperors, as I like to call them. Domitian is the third (after Caligula and Commodus), and the only one not to begin with C. As with the other books, we largely see the subject through the eyes of others, sometimes, as with Nerva, the eyes are wise, and my quite good knowledge of Rome has me very intrigued about Nerva’s role in all of this.

While the novel itself tells of a dramatic sequence of events, they occur over many years and that makes for a saga feel to the story. It isn’t rushed. We’re expected to get to know Domitian and Nerva and to get a feeling for what this Rome of theirs was like. In this Rome, reaching the purple heights of the throne was no guarantee of security or longevity – danger comes from every direction, and also from within. This is a novel with numberless conspirators whispering in the shadows. Now and again they get hauled out onto the stage to be cut up into pieces but there is always someone to replace them. Domitian is more aware of this than anyone. But he has his friends, just a few, and he keeps them close and loyal. But there is also the inner Domitian, what he keeps hidden, and what escapes from him, terrifyingly.

I do enjoy the ambiguity of these novels – they don’t make bad people good but they do make you question assumptions about a person gleefully written off by Suetonius, while also enjoying those famous and scandalous traits preserved to history.

In other guises, Simon Turney (aka S.J.A. Turney) writes some excellent Roman military fiction. In this series, we move from the battlefield to the no less deadly arena of Roman politics and its popular venue for murder and mayhem – the imperial banquet.

Domitian is a thoroughly entertaining, very well written imperial biography while also being full of facts and details about Roman life for the rich and entitled in the second half of the 1st century AD. It is a fine time in which to set a novel, especially one as good as this; a less fine time in which to have actually been around.

Other reviews
With Gordon Doherty – Sons of Rome
Writing historical locations – a guest post

Apologies for my recent hiatus from reviewing while I contend with continued pain and mobility issues. I am feeling happier in myself these days so I have reviews written and we’re ready to go, my friends!!

The Sign of the Devil by Oscar de Muriel

Hello! Before I begin, I must apologise for the lack of reviews in recent weeks. I am suffering from a bad back injury that has made reading and concentrating very difficult. I am beginning to start to feel hopeful that I might be on the mend! So keep everything crossed. I have turned to audiobooks, which, as they have done in the past, provide comfort and company. I have finished a few books over August as a result and so the reviewing should pick up from now on. Excuses over, on with the review!

The Sign of the Devil by Oscar de MurielThe Sign of the Devil by Oscar de Muriel

Orion | 2022 (4 August) | 480p | Review copy | Buy the book

Evil has returned to Victorian Edinburgh. Body snatchers are busier than ever, feeding the frenzy for autopsy theatre. But one night the body snatchers are disturbed and the corpse is recovered, a mark of the devil on its skin. It had not been there before. That same night a patient is murdered in Edinburgh’s lunatic asylum. An identical symbol is marked on the walls. The prime suspect is a young woman, another inmate, indeed considered possessed. She is Amy (or Pansy) McGray, found guilty of killing her parents with an axe, also wounding her brother, Detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray. It is up to McGray, and his long-suffering former associate Inspector Ian Frey, to prove her innocence, right the wrongs of the past and solve the mystery of the sign of the devil.

The Frey and McGray series has been a joy to read over the last few years. Surely, these are the most perfect examples of Victorian melodrama and mystery. Sadly, with this, the seventh novel, the series comes to an end. It is very much a conclusion to the series, looking back to the beginning and coming to terms with the event that has cast a shadow from the start – the murder of McGray’s family and the confinement of his sister, now mute and troubled. All of which means that this is not a stand alone novel, nor is it the one to start with. INstead, go back to the beginning and Strings of Murder.

I love these characters. The very tartan McGray and the extremely English Frey are a great double act. Much of the time we see McGray through Frey’s eyes and his exasperation, and McGray’s constant teasing, are hugely entertaining. These are dark books, dealing with diabolical crimes, but they are also very funny.

There has always been an element of the supernatural in these novels. McGray is a firm believer in such things as devils and witches and he always gets the unsolvable cases that nobody else wants. Frey is the opposite. He believes in logic and deduction. But combined they have a habit of working things out. They also have a habit of getting stabbed. Frey is especially scarred by their earlier cases. No wonder he’s not keen to work with McGray again. But there is something about McGray’s sister that pulls these two men together to clear her name.

I love the depiction of Victorian Edinburgh. I don’t know the city and so can’t vouch for the accuracy but it is so atmospherically drawn, by night and by day. The surrounding countryside seems both beautiful and threatening and the grand houses hide sinister secrets. The crimes are gruesome. It is also a place of science and education.

The Sign of the Devil brings the series to a satisfactory conclusion. If you’ve not read any of the books, then this is the perfect time to start, knowing that it’s complete. I will miss Ian and Nine-Nails. I’m also intrigued to see where the author, the very talented Oscar de Muriel, turns his attention next.

Other reviews
A Fever of the Blood
A Mask of Shadows
The Loch of the Dead

The Darker Arts
The Dance of the Serpents

All That Lives by James Oswald

Wildfire | 2022 (17 February) | 448p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book | Listen to the book

Discoveries of 700-year-old human remains at an archaeological dig in South Leith intrigue DI Tony McLean and his partner Emma but Tony becomes troubled when more bones are recovered, far, far more recent and yet sharing similarities with the ancient remains. And other people are dying. Their deaths appear violent and brutal but no evidence can be found of a killer. Matters aren’t helped by the return to work of Chief Superintendent Gail Elmwood who appears to have had a miraculous recovery from her horrific burns. She wants Tony to work with the charitable Dee Foundation, which is working to clear the streets of drugs and knife crime. Tony knows differently. Jane Louise Dee or Mrs Saifre is Tony’s nemesis of many years’ standing. He knows her to be a monster.

How I love this series! I’m not a big reader of crime fiction these days, as I immerse myself in historical fiction and alien worlds, but if there’s one series I will always read it’s James Oswald’s Tony McLean books. I absolutely love them. They’re set around Edinburgh, a beautiful city with a current of darkness flowing beneath and the books themselves are also dark. Retired officer Grumpy Bob works in the basement on old, cold crimes, revealing an evil that never dies, while the enigmatic Madame Rose taps into the positive energy that can keep people safe. This is a world in which evil fights good, with hints of the supernatural, but only hints. These books are truly immersive, multi-layered and they make you believe.

Tony McLean is one of my favourite characters in contemporary fiction. I love his kindness and thoughtfulness. But he’s not rewarded for it. Once more, Tony must suffer in his private life as Emma falls terribly ill. His worry colours the novel and draws us in to it. It’s hard not to care for Tony McLean.

The old favourite characters return here, including the cats, and I must admit to enjoying the return of Jane Louise Dee. This woman is utterly diabolical. Once again, her battle with Tony is sinister and dramatic. I also loved seeing Janie Harrison take on more of a role.

I listened to the audiobook of All That Lives, the first time I’ve done so with this series and I’m so glad I did! It’s brilliantly read by Ian Hanmore and the fact that it’s read in a Scottish accent added so much to the experience of reading a Scottish novel. Tony McLean is fixed in my head after all these years and this narration fitted that view completely, even enhancing it.

All That Lives is the twelfth novel in the series. You don’t need to have read the others to enjoy this one but I think you might want to after you’ve read it! Tony has a history that is well worth discovering and you’ll want to spend more time with Madame Rose. I really hope there are many more to come and, when you’ve read All That Lives, you’ll understand why I’m nervous!

Other reviews
Natural Causes
The Damage Done
Written in Bones
The Gathering Dark

Cold as the Grave
Bury Them Deep
What Will Burn
No Time To Cry (Constance Fairchild 1)

The Wall by Douglas Jackson

Bantam Press | 2022 (9 June) | 432p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

It is AD 400 and the Roman Empire is disintegrating and, outside of the city of Rome itself, nowhere is this more apparent than on the empire’s fringes. Hadrian’s Wall was built almost 300 years before, several of the forts along this border even earlier. And now it decays. Prefect Marcus Flavius Victor is Lord of the Wall, a title inherited from his heroic father, and he’s earned it in his own right. He’s feared and admired by his own men and also by the tribes across the Wall who sense that the Romans no longer have the power to defend the Wall. As Marcus works to rebuild morale, men, buildings and resources along the Wall, the tribes stir.

But what does Marcus actually want? He, too, can see the cards on the table. Does he fight to hold the Wall for Rome or does he have a personal ambition? And what about the rival tribes in the northern lands? Who do they fight for?

Douglas Jackson writes the most stunning and insightful Roman military fiction. I’ve read and loved all of his novels. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing him talk about them at events and he knows his stuff. His novels have taken him across the Roman empire but they are at their very best when set in Britannia – everyone who loves historical fiction should read Hero of Rome. This is one of my favourite novels of all time and one of the few I’ve read more than once. In The Wall, the author, a Scot, travels even closer to home and examines the breakdown of empire and its final fury in the borders, an area he clearly knows very well.

The Wall is set at an unusual time. Douglas Jackson’s earlier novels are set in the first century of the empire, around the time of the Claudian conquest of Britain. Now we’ve moved on about 350 years and that is such a long time! This is not the same Britannia. But the Romans we find in this novel hail from across the empire. They are such a varied bunch. They are the result of four centuries of conquest. They have views about the past and it has to affect their actions now as they face the barbarians across the Wall.

I love the stories and people that populate The Wall and we move across it to visit the quarrelsome tribes. There are women as well as men, they are deadlier, perhaps. The novel is a journey of sorts along the forts and settlements of Hadrian’s Wall, all places filled with memories. At the centre of it all is the charismatic Marcus, who is prepared to fight his superiors for what he needs to secure the Wall. You can almost see the transfer of power before our eyes, from the authority of the government to the might of the Lord of the Wall.

This is a fascinating period, not often covered, and Jackson portrays it impeccably. There is a great deal of action and some of it is marked by the violence that would have characterised life on this lethal border. The Wall is immersive and entertaining, and it opened my eyes to a whole new period of life and death along such a well-known monument.

I can also recommend Douglas Jackson’s mystery thrillers, written as James Douglas (links below)!

Other reviews and features
Hero of Rome
Defender of Rome
Avenger of Rome
Sword of Rome
Enemy of Rome
Scourge of Rome
Saviour of Rome
Glory of Rome

Hammer of Rome
An interview

Writing as James Douglas
The Doomsday Testament
The Isis Covenant
The Excalibur Codex
The Samurai Inheritance

The House with the Golden Door by Elodie Harper

Head of Zeus | 2022 (12 May) | 400p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

The Roman city of Pompeii is enjoying its heydey and life is looking good for Amara, who once worked as a prostitute in the city’s most infamous and famous brother, the Wolf Den. She has been rescued by a wealthy man and he is now the only man she serves as one of Pompeii’s most glamorous courtesans. But she can’t leave her friends there behind. She is haunted by their continued suffering while being all too well that her own good fortune is transient. And so Amara sets out to help them, especially her closest friend Victoria, and that means she must go back into the wolf’s lair.

The Wolf Den was my favourite novel of 2021. It brought the streets and houses of Pompeii to life for me in a way no other book has done. I’ve visited the place often and I’ll never see it with the same eyes again thanks to the power of Elodie Harper’s prose and research. I was so pleased that there is more and so I couldn’t wait for The House with the Golden Door. Even before I started reading, I was stunned by the beauty of the cover. These are seriously gorgeous books!

The novels are set during the few years leading up to the eruption of Vesuvius. The fact that we know what lies in store adds such a sense of foreboding and I can’t help hoping that the author takes us right up to these events. But the novels don’t miss the drama of the eruption. Instead, the focus is on the daily lives of these damaged women, as well as on the men who own them, the men who love them and all of the other people who tread these streets as shop workers, slaves, business men, courtesans, inn keepers. I love it.

I think any novel is bound to suffer by comparison with The Wolf Den which, to my mind, is nigh on perfect. The fact that Amara has been removed from that awful brothel of the first novel, a major character in its own right, detracts a little from the power of the second. I also found the storyline involving Victoria difficult. Nevertheless, The House with the Golden Door is an excellent novel and once more it is filled with the details that make these novels stand out. There are so few good novels about Roman women or society in general. This was indeed a man’s world. And it is wonderful to immerse oneself in their stories, although everything about Amara’s life and her past is so hard. But there are moments of joy and happiness and I feel like we’re there with her for it all.

Once more, I should point out that these novels are not salacious or erotic. These might be courtesans and prostitutes but they’re also enslaved women living in a city full of life and colour as well as violence and threat. I can’t wait for the third book. I need to know what happens to Amara next. I’m hoping that in the meantime I can return to this incredible place in person myself.

Other review
The Wolf Den

The Capsarius by Simon Turney

Head of Zeus | 2022 (14 April) | 432p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

It 25 BC and Egypt is not what it once was. Pharaoh-less, it is ruled by Romans, hungry for its wealth and resources. The Queen of the Kush, far to the South, also has her eye on it and that means trouble. The 22nd legion is sent up the Nile to deal with the Queen’s army and raiders and among it is Titus Cervianus, an army medic and scientist who has the distinction of being both extremely talented at mending people while being incredibly unpopular and picked upon. It doesn’t help that he finds himself friends with one of the legion’s troublemakers, Ulyxes. As they travel deeper into Egypt, there is danger everywhere, from within the legion, from terrifying enemy fighters, and from the Nile itself, which thrashes with crocodiles.

I love a Roman military adventure and have read many of them over the years. The Capsarius is such a fine example for lots of reasons, not least its author, Simon Turney. What he doesn’t know about the Roman world and its military engine isn’t worth knowing. The amount of research he does for each of his books (fiction and non-fiction) is extraordinary and all of that means that you can enjoy his novels while also feeling that you’re learning something.

The setting of The Capsarius is fantastic and it is effectively a military tour up the Nile at a time with the wonders of ancient Egypt are fading but are still marvelled at and have a power to awe. Temples are described in beautiful detail that captures the enigma of Egyptian religion and architecture. I’ve visited many of these places myself on a leisurely cruise up the Nile and the novel brought back memories of the colour and heat of middle and southern Egypt.

But this is a dangerous place for Cervianus, not least because his fellow soldiers keep wanting to kill him while the officers in charge make reckless decisions about their mission. Cervianus seems to reel from one disaster to the next, while all of the time the legion is plagued by attack, the hostile environment, the heat, and then there are the crocodiles. I’m rather glad there were none of those on my cruise. Unfortunately, the crocodiles seem to like nothing better than the taste of a sweaty Roman soldier.

Cervianus’ medical knowledge is called upon with alarming regularity and the detail of his progressive methods is both fascinating and, I have to say, gory. But there is something really appealing about Cervianus. He is an entertaining and true companion, loyal, very unlucky and clever. Despite being widely unliked, he does find friends in strange places, including among the native Egyptian auxiliaries, who are fascinating in their own right.

I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of an unusual man and his exploits on the trail of the Kush queen’s army. The descriptions of the Nile and the legacy of its pharaonic past are wonderful as the army moves further and further away from Alexandria ad the familiar. Simon Turney knows his stuff and the fascinating detail and insight makes this novel stand out. If you love Romans and the ancient world, you’ll love this.

Other reviews (also writes as S.J.A. Turney)
Marius’ Mules I: The Invasion of Gaul
Marius’ Mules II: The Belgae
Writing historical locations – a guest post
With Gordon Doherty – Sons of Rome