Legionary by Gordon Doherty – A Review
The Roman world in 376 AD is not one in which I have spent a lot of time. In my let’s say ignorance, I have paid most of my attention to the era from Marius to around the time of Vespasian. The Eastern Roman Empire was largely unexplored territory for me. I have since seen the error of my ways thanks in part to Gordon Doherty’s Legionary. This is a story that brings that period to life with all of its glory and its encroaching demise. There is a plot, a very involved one, to supplant the current Emperor Valens. A prominent Senator, Tarquitius, and the Christian Bishop, Evagrius have conspired together and separately with each seeing himself as the next Emperor. The tools of this power struggle are Rome’s enemies from across the Danubius River, firstly the Goths and secondly the Huns. The Border Legions of the empire are called upon to save Constantinople from the ravages of these fierce adversaries only to find that they too have been the victim of the nefarious goings on.
The main protagonist, a likeable and resourceful youth, Pavo is thrust into the maelstrom as a new recruit in the Border Legion, the XI Claudia. The constant fear of attack by other recruits with whom he has had dealings with in the past and the normal brutality of life as a legionary brings out a resiliency and determination to survive. His one big drawback is his uncanny ability to spear himself in his own foot, a tendency guaranteed to make his life even tougher. This in depth character portrayal is typical of the author’s treatment of the main characters in Legionary. Gallus the Centurion of the XI Claudia, Spurious an enemy turned friend from the streets of Constantinople are just two more examples of the author giving us a glimpse of what makes these characters tick.
The action sequences are excitingly written, from the whirring lassos of the horseback Huns to the sounds and fury of a battle at sea. Mr. Doherty makes good use of the technology available at that time. The gladius and pila have been replaced by spatha and plumbata as the main weapons of a Roman legion but the effectiveness has not changed. Carnage is the watch word when opposite forces clash; whether it is Hun versus Goth or Goth versus Roman or Hun versus Roman and Goth. It was a confusing time for all concerned except for perhaps The Huns who only had one thing in mind, annihilation of both the Goths and Romans.
The story ends, or rather it doesn’t as the way is paved for more intrigue and mayhem. Pavo and the other survivors are not finished yet and that my friends is a good thing because it means more for us to read.