King of Kings – Warrior of Rome 2 by Harry Sidebottom

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Ballista the bada$$; barbarian bred, but Roman raised, now in disfavor with Valerian, has a new assignment – persecuting the dangerous religious cult, Christianity.  Not a happy situation for him or his familia given that he is a warrior and a battle hardened commander.  An administrative job, given to him under suspicious circumstances, has him requesting and then conniving to be replaced.  Book two of Warrior of Rome adds to the intrigues of the imperial court and sets Ballista on a collision course with the narrow minded, noses in the air Roman patrician class, and which eventually culminates in a surprising and shocking turn of events (that I will not divulge – spoilers, you know).  As in the first book, Fire in the East, the author shines in his portrayal of the Roman court, and the events that lead to the inevitable clash with Shapur, King of Kings.  4.7 stars

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Fire in the East – Warrior of Rome 1 by Harry Sidebottom

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I fell in love with the Warrior of Rome series many years ago in the era known as the PBR – or Pre-Book Reviewing era.  However, for some inexplicable reason, I only read the first four books.  Therefore, in order to rectify that situation, I decided to reread them in preparation for reading the rest of the series and thus, reviewing them as I go a long.  I call that a win-win scenario as I get to read them again and you, my peeps and fellow travelers, get to read my penetrating, yet humble reviews.  In the first installment, Fire in the East, we meet Marcus Clodius Ballista, son of a Germanic chieftain but raised as a Roman, and who rises through the ranks of the Roman army to become the Dux Ripae of a force given the seeming impossible task of defending the city of Arete on the banks of the Euphrates.  Their opponent is the Persian King of Kings, Shapur and his far numerically superior  force.  To many in the Roman establishment Ballista is seen as a warrior leader of immense experience and ability.  Others, however, view him as nothing but a barbarian bastard far beneath their social standing.  The tale is at once intriguing, exciting; full of surprises as it progresses through Ballista’s arrival, the preparation for the coming battle and siege and finally the battle of wills between this barbarian commander and the staggering, fanatic Persian host driven by the power of the King of Kings and bent on the total destruction of Arete.  It is also a tale populated with wonderful characters, Ballista, his retinue – Maximus, Calgacus and Demetrius to name but a few.  The historic research done is more than evident as you walk the streets of Arete; as you take in the defensive towers and the well placed artillery; the stone throwers and ballistas.  A tension filled atmosphere permeates the pages as Ballista recognizes the near hopeless situation he has been thrust into; not only from Shapur but from assassins and secret agents out to see he doesn’t succeed.  A highly entertaining read – glad I decided to give it another go.  5 stars

After the Ides by Peter Tonkin

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Ahh, that tumultuous period after Gaius Julius Caesar’s assassination.  A power vacuum now exists in Rome providing the drama as the contestants for that power vie for and against each other.  Lots of work for the agents who used to work for the now divine Julius and who are now firmly in Antony’s camp carrying out his wishes and commands throughout Italy and beyond.   Given that the historical events are pretty well known it would take a creative  imagination to render the fictional bits believable and intriguing.  The author has done that through the actions of the elite group of agents conjured up to bring the story to life.  They mesh seamlessly with the likes of Antony, Octavian, Cicero etc, as they interact with friends and foes.  The story flows nicely as it heads to the tension filled collision of Antony and a Cicero provoked Senate.  As well as providing an intriguing tale, the author has splendidly described the geographical locations; an example of that is Antony’s retreat from Mutina into the Alps following Hannibal’s route. My only real complaint is that book 3 isn’t out yet.  4.7 stars

Fields of Mars – Marius Mules X by S.J.A. Turney

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The Rubicon River, a rather insignificant stream with a rather major significance.  Fronto is once again with Gaius Julius Caesar and follows him across that river and into open rebellion against fellow Romans.  In MM X, the author presents the events of Caesar’s siege of Massilia and his campaign in Hispania against Pompey’s legions.  In a nice bit of plot interweaving, we find Fronto, once again in charge of a legion, with Caesar at Ilerda while at the same time he is also mentally occupied with the Massilia situation due to his business interests there and the fact that his nice villa is now a Roman camp.  The cast is replete with some old favorites, Galronus, Antonius, Brutus, and a nice cameo from Musgava and crew.  On the flip side we have some nasties like Ahenobarbus and Petreius for example.  We are also introduced to an intriguing character, Salvius Cursor, one of those characters who make you wonder if you’re supposed to hate him or to like him – trust me, you’ll understand as you read the book.  The author puts on another display of his battle prowess, but to me it was more of a story about the characters; the mindsets of Caesar – the way he prosecutes this war; Fronto and the fact that he is aging but can’t stay out of the action; Salvius and his need for bloodshed.  It is a masterful telling of historical events that changed the Roman world with a fine smattering of fictional tweaking.  It is sad to realize that we are on the down slope of Marius Mules; only five more volumes to go.  🙂  4.7 stars

Legionary – Empire of Shades by Gordon Doherty

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The Legionary series, has become one of my favorites over the years, and am happy to report that Empire of Shades carries on the tradition of crafty storytelling that we’ve grown to expect from Mr. Doherty.  The masterful interweaving of the multiple plot lines throughout the tale are sure to keep the reader engaged and turning pages.  Pavo and the rest of his gang are really put to the test in many ways and many times in this many layered thriller.  Pavo reaches a new depth of character as he pursues a promise made to his friend and mentor, Gallus.  He also finds love again and that experience leaves it’s mark.  Set against the backdrop of Theodosius taking the mantle of Emperor of the East and the unsettling shenanigans of Gratian, the Emperor of the West, Mr. Doherty leads us on a brutal adventure during a time of great migrations and a changing world.  4.7 stars

Roma Amor by Sherry Christie

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Whenever I think of Caligula, I see John Hurt’s I,Claudius portrayal, one of a madman ruling an empire.  In Roma Amor, we find a different Caligula, one who is still working out how to be Emperor while trying to keep at bay the tormenting demons in his mind.  This story, while it is certainly about Caligula, is more than that.  Marcus Carinna returns to Rome, a successful military campaign completed and hostages in tow and finds himself in a struggle to find the truth about his family and the truth behind Caligula’s rise to power.  It is also a tale of loyalties, mostly misspent loyalties, to the greater good of Rome.  I found it easy to like Carinna and likewise felt the pain and anguish he experiences throughout the book.  Indeed, that is one of the strengths of the story, that the characters, real and fictitious, are believable; no matter their station or role.  The plots and subplots keep the reader guessing as Carinna and Caligula head into a clash of wills; a clash that an emperor usually wins…but I will leave it at that.  3.8 stars

The Daughters of Palatine Hill by Phyllis T. Smith

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The sequel to I Am Livia continues to follow the reign of Octavian/Augustus Caesar and is told from the perspective of three of the important women in his life; Livia, his wife; Julia, his daughter; and the daughter of Cleopatra and Antony, Cleopatra Selene.  Once again I was enthralled with the author’s ability to take a period of history and make it come alive with all of the emotion, the fears, the makings of a dynastic family amid constant turmoil.  The portrayals of the main figures in this at times triumphant; at times tragic tale, are redolent with realism; it could have happened this way.  Livia is a true help mate for Tavius; Julia a daughter whose frustration at being just a tool for her father searches for passion; Cleopatra Selene brought up with no hope of plotting her own future finds purpose and happiness.  The Daughters of Palatine Hill is a masterful rendition; the author possesses the knack for keeping the reader thoroughly entertained; a page turning delight as the story progresses to Julia’s banishment.  A well done tale indeed.  4.8 stars and a Hoover Book Review hope that there is more forthcoming from Phyllis T. Smith.