Category Archives: Roman

Glory of Rome by Douglas Jackson

Bantam Press | 2017 (10 August) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

Glory of Rome by Douglas JacksonIt 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.

Other reviews and features
Caligula
Claudius
Defender of Rome
Avenger of Rome
Sword of Rome
Enemy of Rome
Scourge of Rome
Saviour of Rome
An interview

Vindolanda by Adrian Goldsworthy

Head of Zeus | 2017 (1 June) | 403p | Review copy | Buy the book

Vindolanda by Adrian GoldsworthyIt is AD 98 and all is quiet on the northernmost fringes of the Roman empire. It’s a generation or so since the Iceni revolt led by Boudicca and Hadrian’s Wall is still twenty years or so in the future. The majority of tribes have gone quiet. They’re paying their taxes (as late as possible) and they’re even integrated into the Roman army of occupation. Flavius Ferox is a fine example – he is both tribal prince (of the Silures) and centurion. Ferox has been seconded to the northern border where his role is to help mediate with the local people to keep the peace.

But Ferox has been harmed by his service to Rome. He’s been too good at his job, used to bad ends by the now dead and damned emperor Domitian, finding refuge in wine, beer and oblivion. But now Rome has a new emperor, Trajan, and, while many greet his accession with hope, there are others who see this empire in transition as weak, open to attack. You might have thought that Britain would be far enough away from Rome to be safe from such plots. But there are ambitious and treacherous Romans serving in Britain, ready to use the northern tribes to bring disgrace and defeat to Rome’s British legions and governor. These tribes, though, have plans of their own, and leading them is a terrifying figure – Stallion, a Druid of formidable influence and cruelty.

Adrian Goldsworthy is one of Britain’s most well-known Roman historians and with Vindolanda he makes his  Roman fictional debut (he is previously known for his Napoleonic fiction). A wealth of well-preserved evidence has been recovered from excavations in the Roman fort of Vindolanda and the author puts this to very good use – whether it’s the Vindolanda tablets (especially the famous birthday party invitation) or the astonishing number of shoes that have been found in the site’s waterlogged deposits. There are people in this novel who really existed, making a home so far away from Rome, and Adrian Goldsworthy brings these men and women whose names we know to life, just as he brings Vindolanda itself to life. He gives this archaeological site walls, gates, offices, roads, barracks, bathhouses and a neighbouring town of shops, taverns and brothels. You can almost hear the sound of hobnailed feet.

As you’d expect from a good historian, this is a novel supported by meticulous detail but it doesn’t take anything away from the drama of what always remains a thoroughly entertaining work of fiction. The result is a wonderfully rich portrait of clothes, armour, carriages, house furnishings and so much more, including, in particular, warfare. Ferox finds himself caught up in an increasingly tense and violent situation as the Druids call to arms the men of the tribes. Ferox can stand and watch the exodus of warriors from village to army or he can lead the Romans and make the locals fight. It’s very tense and exciting, as well as bloody. There’s nothing gratuitous about the violence in Vindolanda. Much is left to the imagination. When we are told the true outrage of what has happened – such as the cruel murder of a young Roman matron – it’s all the more horrific for standing out.

Vindolanda tells a fantastic story. It is packed full of action and thrills but this is balanced with real insight into Roman Britain and its people at the end of the 1st century AD. This is Roman military fiction written with restraint and I really admired and liked that. This did, though, lead to my only issue with the novel – the repeated use of the words ‘humping’ or ‘humped’ in place of the more expected curses! It really stood out and I wish it didn’t.

Historians don’t necessarily make good novelists but Adrian Goldsworthy has pulled it off. Vindolanda is such a well-written and authoritative novel that is always enjoyable and entertaining. Ferox is a great character (I love the repartee with Vindex) and so too are the women that we meet, especially the marvellous Sulpicia Lepidina. I really enjoyed the mix of military and civilian Vindolanda, its blend of religions and traditions, as well as its exploration of the mingling of Roman and Briton on this edge of empire. This is an excellent novel and I’m delighted to report that it is just the first in a new series.

I must mention that Vindolanda is yet another of Head of Zeus’s fine looking hardbacks – with a ribbon!

Adrian Goldsworthy’s website on Vindolanda

Deposed by David Barbaree

Twenty7 | 2017 (4 May) | 469p | Review copy | Buy the book

Deposed by David BarbareeIt is AD 68 and an emperor is deposed. He lies in his prison cell, newly blinded by the men who once served and protected him. There is little to comfort him as he works through the pain and torment of his utter fall from grace, just the kind care of a frightened slave boy called Marcus and fierce thoughts of vengeance. Once this man was Nero, emperor and god. Now he has been lost to history.

In AD 79, Vespasian is emperor of the vast Roman empire but his family, the Flavians, cannot rest. Vespasian’s son Titus has become obsessed with worry about murderous plots against his father. They usurped power and now it is the turn of others to take their chance. But who? An obvious threat comes from the East where yet another False Nero has emerged to fan rebellious flames but Titus believes there is more danger, closer to home. A close friend to the family has vanished while a dog brought another man’s hand, wearing a nobleman’s ring, directly to Titus in one of Rome’s temples. The Flavians look for support and money where they can find it, and sometimes it comes from the most unlikely of sources, including an immensely wealthy senator from Spain who wears a bandage over his blinded eyes and is accompanied by an angry young man, his nephew called Marcus.

Deposed is without doubt one of the most extraordinary and original novels I have read about ancient Rome. It takes one particular bit of it – AD68-79, a time of transition from the Julio-Claudians to the Flavians via the turmoil of civil war and the Year of the Four Emperors – and makes it new. As the author David Barbaree says in his notes, we don’t actually know what happened under Nero and Vespasian. We don’t really know them at all. Because all we do know comes from historians writing decades or centuries afterwards who related ‘what others claim to have observed. It would be inadmissible in court’. The existence of several False Neros (there were no such False other emperors) suggests that there was doubt over Nero’s supposed assisted suicide. Who knows? Perhaps he lived. This is an author’s gift and David Barbaree makes perfect use of it. The result is a novel that could quite easily prove itself my book of the year.

Deposed is brilliantly written and very cleverly done. It moves back and forth between the years and also between characters, always speaking in the first person in present tense. This is undoubtedly ambitious but it is wholly successful. The voices are distinct, clear and immediate. Among them we have Nero, Titus and Domitilla (Titus’s sister) – all three of whom have an eye on history, but we also hear from others who don’t, including Calenus, a former soldier, and Marcus. Every story here is fully developed and gripping.

There is a deliciously complex plot running through the novel as conspiracies and plots emerge and hide. Some we’re aware of, others we’re not. And watching over it all is the malignant force of a terrifying and violent religious cult. It all adds to the mood of menace, the darkness that blights Nero’s life, the obsession that threatens to make Titus mad. Because these characters are all made to feel so real, we care for them and so there are moments of real tenderness scattered through this book, as well as sadness and fear and triumph.

Nero’s character is perhaps the most fascinating of all and it is riveting. You must discover it for yourself. It is equalled, though, by the novel’s strong sense of historical authenticity. Without overloading the narrative with background, David Barbaree makes it all feel real – the palaces, houses, prisons, feasts, temples and Rome itself. They are all beautifully portrayed. But what I also really enjoyed about this novel is that it explores what the immediate aftermath of Nero’s overthrow would have been like for the ordinary man, woman and slave of Rome. It would have been a very frightening and violent time, and extremely uncertain. As someone asks, ‘Is Rome safe?’. It feels very unsafe indeed.

The premise of Deposed is fantastic but its delivery is even better. It is remarkable that Deposed is a debut novel from David Barbaree. It is brilliantly accomplished and assured and I hung on to every word. I was just so sorry to finish it! I’m not sure if there will be a sequel. It’s a complete novel with a fine and satisfying conclusion but I would dearly love to discover what happens next. This is a world I didn’t want to leave. Extraordinary!

The Third Nero by Lindsey Davis

Hodder & Stoughton | 2017 (6 April) | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Third Nero by Lindsey DavisIt is AD 89 and Domitian is ensconced on Rome’s imperial throne. His position is far from secure, not least because he’s such a horrible human being. In fact, he’s so unpopular that people have been getting rather nostalgic for their poor murdered emperor Nero, so much so that there have been at least three Neros who have recently popped up across the empire, eager to prove that they are in fact not dead. Not all of them can even speak Latin, but that doesn’t deter grumbling Roman officials, stationed far from home, from grabbing the opportunity to adopt a potentially resurrected emperor for their own gains. Much to the relief of his senators, Domitian is away from Rome at the moment, protecting the empire’s borders but, unfortunately, this leaves Rome itself wide open to conspiracy. The latest Nero contender has been brought to Rome for questioning and this has caught everyone’s interest.

The palace is nervous. It’s well aware of a plot embedded in Rome itself but it’s sensitive. Two of Rome’s nobles have fallen foul of Domitian, suspected of involvement in a Nero plot, but nothing has been proven. It is hoped that their widows might hold the answer but how to get it out of them? And then there’s the visiting VIP Parthians and their exotic household and harem. A woman’s sensitivity is needed. Flavia Albia will have to do.

Flavia could do with the distraction. She might have got married only the day before but the fact that her new husband was struck by lightning during their wedding procession and barely survived has meant her marriage has not got off to the best of starts. Worried about her husband but not wanting to sit by his sickbed all day, Flavia reluctantly accepts the case and finds herself as something she never wanted to be – but her father Marcus Didius Falco would know all about – an imperial spy.

The Third Nero is the fifth novel in Lindsey Davis’s wonderful Flavia Albia Roman detective series. It follows on almost immediately from The Graveyard of the Hesperides but you don’t need any prior knowledge to enjoy any of these books. You might not know all the ins and outs of Flavia’s family and romantic life but that’s about it. But if you’re as big a fan of the Falco books as I am, then it’s great to pick up the references to familiar people, places and dogs.

This is a little different from the books that have gone before. The Third Nero is far less of a murder mystery than it is a Roman spy thriller. Instead of working for private clients, Flavia is now in the unfortunate position of working for a government (or palace) that she doesn’t like and it takes her painfully close to some of Falco’s worst memories of being an imperial spy. She’s aware of this and she’s uncomfortable with it. This is a world of dungeons, torturers and secret agents. The latter are not easy to spot.

As usual, Lindsey Davis is expert in bringing to life the everyday details of ancient Rome. This book, like the others, is full of historical and social background – we learn about politics, government, the place of women and foreigners, diplomats, marriage, and much, much more, all set within the marvellously visualised city of Rome. However, I did find that at times this rich background was a little at the expense of the story, which is not one of the strongest of the series. I like the usual whodunnit format of these books and I missed that here. My biggest issue with The Third Nero, though, is poor Tiberius’s lightning strike. This felt like a convenient way to keep him out of the way, allowing his wife to do her detecting, something which may have been extremely irregular during this period.

Nevertheless, it’s always a pleasure to spend time with Flavia Albia. I love her wit and spark. Lindsey Davis writes her so well. She’s immensely likeable and, despite seeming modern in some ways, is also such a part of Rome and the time in which she lives. I always look forward to the latest novel by Lindsey Davis, a novelist I have read and loved for almost thirty years. I’ve read every single one and I can’t wait for the next!

Other reviews
Enemies at Rome
Deadly Election
The Graveyard of the Hesperideres

Eagles in the Storm by Ben Kane

Preface | 2017 | 343p | Review copy | Buy the book

Eagles in the Storm by Ben KaneIt’s been six years since Rome suffered its most infamous defeat in the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in AD 9. Three legions were destroyed and their eagles stolen by German tribes united under the leadership of Arminius, a man who once served Rome. The loss of the eagles and the betrayal by Arminius continue to grieve Rome, so much so that the few survivors of the defeat are no longer allowed within the walls of Rome. Senior Centurion Lucius Cominius Tullus didn’t just survive the battle, he saved more Roman lives than anyone else, and now he is doing what he can to atone for the shame he continues to bear. Tullus has re-entered the forest, he has taken the fight back to the tribes, he helped to restore one of the lost eagles. But it wasn’t his. Although Tullus is now an important member of the Fifth legion, promoted higher and higher, and worships its eagle, it’s the eagle of the Eighteenth that Tullus is determined to kneel before once again.

Eagles in the Storm completes Ben Kane’s magnificent trilogy on the the Battle of Teutoburg Forest and its bloody aftermath. You are well advised to begin this story at its beginning – this review assumes you have done so – with the superb Eagles at War. I’ve been fascinated by this battle for longer than I can remember and Eagles at War is now, for me, the definitive fictional account of this devastating and truly terrifying ambush and battle. In Hunting the Eagles, the second novel, the aftermath of the battle is explored, including its contribution to mutiny within Rome’s northern legions and their subsequent attempts to win back the eagles, led by the general Germanicus, nephew to the emperor Tiberius, and his centurion, Tullus. As Eagles in the Storm begins, Tullus once more prepares to take on Arminius.

Eagles in the Storm is divided between Tullus, the small band of legionaries who have followed Tullus since the beginning, and the other side – Arminius and his efforts to bring together once again tribes that appear to hate him almost as much as they hate the Romans. The fight is more personal than ever for Arminius now. Everyone has lost loved ones in Rome’s avenging raids and Arminius is no different.

Ben Kane, as always, has an extraordinary talent of making us feel that we are there with these soldiers, not only in the heat of the battle but also on the march, in camp, and off duty. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of a legionary camp. After three novels, we know these men well, especially legionary Piso and his fellow tentmen, who always seem to find some way to entertain themselves (i.e., get into trouble) during the monotony of life on the march. But there is a serious side to these soldiers as well, particularly in their devotion to their new eagle and their desire to set eyes again on their old. The meaning and significance of the eagle plays a crucial role in this final novel.

Tullus is a fantastic character. He is revered across the legion for his bravery. Even Germanicus listens to him and in this novel Germanicus has yet more reason to be grateful to him. Tullus is intimidating but he loves his men. They know it and they love him back. It’s not sentimentalised. It’s just the way it is. There is a real contrast between Tullus and Arminius. Arminius isn’t presented as a villain. He was fighting for a cause he believed in, for the freedom of his people against an invading oppressor. But Arminius has to look over his shoulder constantly – Tullus doesn’t.

The battle sequences are so thrilling and they set the pace for the novel, although I enjoyed the other sections of Eagles in the Storm every bit as much. This is brilliant storytelling from an author who is steeped in the history of the Romans, and he fills it with all the details, military and otherwise, you need to make it feel real.

Ben Kane is an author whose books will always go to the top of my reading mountain, without fail. This has been a wonderful trilogy – one of the very best that I’ve read. Although I’m sorry it’s finished I can’t be sorry about the way in which it’s been finished – it concludes perfectly. And I know that I’ll be hanging on to every word as we embark on Ben Kane’s next project, whatever that might be.

Other reviews
Eagles at War
Hunting the Eagles

Spartacus
Spartacus: Rebellion

Hannibal: Enemy of Rome
Hannibal: Fields of Blood
Hannibal: Clouds of War

A Day of Fire: A novel of Pompeii (with others)

The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George

Macmillan | 2017 (9 March) | 514p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret GeorgeYoung Nero’s destiny wasn’t always golden. As a child he wasn’t even called Nero. Instead, he knew himself as Lucius Domitius, the only son of nobleman Ahenobarbus and Agrippina, sister to the emperor Caligula. And one of Lucius’s earliest memories was of being on a ship and of being thrown overboard by Caligula himself. If he hadn’t have been plucked out of the water by a soldier, Lucius would have been drowned with no more regard than one might have for any sacrificial gift to the gods.

Lucius didn’t live with his mother then but with an aunt. But all that was to change once Agrippina had worked her way into the favours of another emperor – Claudius. It made sense for Agrippina to have a son to work her ambition on and so she reclaimed him. And that ambition had no limits whatsoever. Nobody could better Agrippina, not even Messalina, Claudius’s beloved, wicked empress, who had her own son to watch over. There was a time when Lucius was an innocent. His mother put paid to that.

Many of us have our own ideas about Nero, some of which may have been informed by Hollywood – I will never forget the sight of Peter Ustinov’s Nero fiddling as Rome burns in Quo Vadis. Margaret George cleans the slate and builds up her portrait of Nero from scratch, focusing on Nero the boy and young man, to show how he became a madman to history. Much of The Confessions of Young Nero is narrated by Nero himself, drawing us even closer into the machinations of his mind as the years pass and the shadows descend.

It is brilliantly done. We see the innocence in Nero and many of the qualities that made him such a popular figure among the ordinary men and women of Rome – his love of horses and racing, his need to play music and perform, his youthful athleticism. This is a young man who wanted the past glories of Greece to live again in Rome. Nero never wanted to be a soldier, or even wear a toga – he wanted to be a poet and musician. He wanted to be good. His ideals shine out of the pages in abundance and we warm to him, even more so when we consider the behaviour of the closest members of his family. But, from a very early age, Nero began to understand that survival was not guaranteed and if he wanted to live, let alone become emperor, he was going to have to work at it.

The Confessions of Young Nero is not just a beautifully written portrait of the painful corruption of a young man, it also depicts power at its most cynical and evil. At times it is embodied – in Messalina and Agrippina and later in Nero himself. But at other times it exists as a general shadow over Rome and the imperial family that darkens and darkens as the novel goes on, reflecting the gradual shadowing of Nero’s own character. He is self-aware. He does question himself but it gets easier for him to provide the answers.

All of this is set within a vividly realised Rome, full of palaces, gardens, country retreats, lakes and ships. This is a world full of glamorous sin-filled men and women, many of whom are brought to life here, but there are also other types of people – Nero’s tutors and advisors who whisper good things in one ear while Agrippina pours poison in the other. The character of Nero is wonderfully drawn but Agrippina is astonishing.

I loved all the details: the luxury of the feasting, the ritual of the chariot race, the meticulous work of the skilled poisoner. It’s very visual. There is so much to enjoy on every page. Margaret George has done this before, with her stunningly perceptive and insightful ‘autobiographies’ of such figures as Cleopatra, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Mary Magdalene. I’ve loved all of these and I was so excited to learn that Margaret George, one of my very favourite authors, would be turning her attention to Nero, one of the most charismatic and intriguing figures in history. I knew that she could make me look at him (and Agrippina) with fresh eyes and she most certainly did. This is one of those novels I didn’t want to end. This is most definitely for me the historical novel to beat this year. I can’t sing its praises enough.

Betrayal: The Centurions I by Anthony Riches

Hodder & Stoughton | 2017 (9 March) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

betrayal-by-anthony-richesIt is AD 68 and the dynasty founded by Julius Caesar a century before has been brought to a violent and ignoble end by the suicide of Nero. The result is months of chaos as ‘usurper emperors’ use Rome’s legions to fight for the throne. The first of these, Otho, dismisses the imperial bodyguard, a band of Batavi, incorruptible Germanic warriors favoured by Julius Caesar. They are sent home in disgrace to defend the upper Rhine and with them is sent Julius Caesar Civilis, a Batavi officer suspected of treachery against Nero but with the enviable gift of making mud not stick. The drama of the imperial power struggle plays out across the empire but events are taking place in northern Germany that could change everything – eyes turn to the Batavi and Rome’s generals wonder what they will do.

Betrayal is the first in a new trilogy by Anthony Riches and it takes as its subject one of the most utterly fascinating periods in history – the Year of the Four Emperors – and focuses on the significant part played in it by the Batavi legions as well as the other legions garrisoned in a series of camps in northern Europe. The focus tightens further onto a small group of centurions, their officers and their men – Batavi and Roman – who are influenced by the intrigue of the times but also help to shape it.

Over the course of this novel, I became fully immersed, its story bringing me close to the history, involving me deeply in its intrigue as well as in the human lives that lay behind it. The relationships between these soldiers are complicated. You do need to have your wits about you to keep up as we move from fort to fort (some of the characters’ names are quite similar) but the effort is rewarded immensely as you get to know these men and learn what matters the most to them. It isn’t immediately obvious to us, or to others in the book, where allegiances lie and therein lies the expectation, intrigue and betrayal. Floating above it all is the enigmatic Civilis, a source of potential trouble if ever there was one. But for whom?

If I had to pick favourites it would be Scar and Alcaeus of the Batavi and the Roman Aquillius but there are plenty of others to grab the attention and each of them receives their moment of glory. And the story for some is set to develop further in future volumes.

There is some great action in Betrayal, some fantastic battle sequences, and they feel very different to battles in most other Roman military historical fiction that I’ve read. The Batavi were extraordinary warriors who fought in unusual ways and this adds so much to those sequences. The fact that this is also Civil War, despite the range of tribes brought into battle, adds to the tension as people switch sides, dither between them, or are cruelly treated by their own people.

You only have to look at my list of other reviews below to see that I’ve read all of Anthony Riches’ novels and I love his Empire series (which will pick up again once this trilogy is complete) but I think Betrayal is the finest book he’s written to date. Riches always displays his knowledge of the period as well as Roman military matters but there is much more to Betrayal. The story is complex but it is told brilliantly. The planning that must have gone into it is astounding. A great deal of information is put before us but Riches brings out its inherent drama and tension and also makes these fighting men seem very real, finding their motivations, setting them against the enormous stress of this difficult period when the Roman empire was under such threat from within. Just imagine what it must have been like for these men! Nothing is inevitable here. Anything can change as usurper defeats usurper.

The quality of writing is good indeed. There are sections with the barracks language that is so common in some Roman military historical fiction and does wear me down to be honest but this is outweighed by some great writing. This is confident, vivid and vigorous prose that gives real authority to its subject. There’s a military poetry to parts of this novel and I lapped it up. It reminded me in places of medieval, classical and Anglo-Saxon accounts of war. I love such use of language.

Betrayal is a fine, fine novel. And it brings with it great news. Onslaught, the second in the trilogy, follows in September, a mere sixth months from the publication of Betrayal. I love that I don’t have too long to wait. Each of the the trilogy is also accompanied by a graphic novella that depicts its prologue. I’ve read the first and it adds wonderfully to the whole experience of Betrayal, contributing to its spirit. Betrayal is a triumph, introducing a trilogy that I’m so excited to read, and I have no doubt that it will feature in my year-end lists.

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 IX: Altar of Blood
An interview for The Eagles Vengeance
An interview for The Emperor’s Knives