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)!