Caligula – The Damned Emperors 1 by Simon Turney

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I must confess at the outset that the portrayal of Caligula that is permanently etched in my mind is John Hurt’s magnificent, raving lunatic character in I, Claudius.  Having said that, I must also confess that if any author could convince me otherwise, it would be Simon Turney.  As proof of that I submit his Gaius Julius Caesar from the Marius Mules series, his Caesar is much more convincing than say, Colleen McCullough’s, and I loved the way her Caesar turned out.  Told through the person of his sister Livilla, we find a Caligula who was protective, caring and very shrewd; qualities that were necessary while Tiberius and Sejanus ran amok through the descendants of Germanicus.  That’s not to say he didn’t have some issues that gave wings to his destructive behavior later – but I will not divulge much of that aspect except to say that irony plays an important role.  Indeed, the author has done another splendid job in creating a tale full of surprises, even if he does shred my preconceived ideals first encountered in the writing of Robert Graves. 🙂  I have had the pleasure of reading many of Mr. Turney’s books; this new series on some of the more, shall we say colorful emperors, is off to a robust start. 5 stars

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Wrath of the Furies by Robert Southworth

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Powerful men will do whatever it takes to maintain or increase their power – even if it destroys an entire Legion.  Wrath of the Furies follows the exploits of a newly appointed magistrate; charged by Hadrian to administer justice to all segments of Roman society, no matter how rich or poor.  Lucius is not a brave man, nor is he a powerful one, but he does possess the intelligence and perseverance to succeed.  A fast paced mystery awaits the reader as Lucius and his crew struggle to identify the man or men responsible for the destruction of the legion while a brutal killer hunts the same men. A tale paved with frustrating stops and starts for the investigators; twists and turns in the plot, surprises galore and an exciting, climatic conclusion.  I look forward to the sequel.  4.3 stars

Eagles of Dacia – Praetorian 3 by S.J.A. Turney

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A most enjoyable journey is this, the third book in the Praetorian series.  Rufinus has been dispatched on a mission to a remote corner of the Empire; a mission that demands success from the odious chancellor Cleander, who has Rufinus’ brother held hostage to ensure this success.  What follows is a roller coaster of a ride as Rufinus, Senova, and Acheron the wonder dog traverse the Danubian world seeking to find evidence of treason among the area’s governors. Once again, the author transported me to a region of the globe I am not too familiar with, but which he has trod, and the result is a dazzling display of descriptive narrative. This combined with a flair for fascinating characters, wonderful dialogue, and a truly believable tale make Eagles of Dacia an entertaining read. The only question I have for Mr. Turney is this: why do you dislike Rufinus so much?  After all the torment and pain he endured in the first two books, he could have used a bit of a breather.  Just kidding, after all, that’s one of the traits that makes Rufinus so interesting; his resilience under extreme duress.  4.8 stars – maybe he’ll catch a break in book 4.  🙂

The Centurion’s Son by Adam Lofthouse

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Albinus, the son of a retired, and much revered First Spear Centurion of the 14th Legion, is ill equipped to be the man and soldier his father plans for him to be, and yet through the vicissitudes of life on the wild frontier along the Danube River, he strives to achieve his father’s hopes.  Set against the backdrop of the Marcomannic War in 167 A.D. and the rise of the Glycon Cult started by Alexander of Abonoteichus, the author has crafted a compelling debut novel.  An emotionally charged, action packed tale of revenge, rebellion, survival, and heart rending losses.  Mr. Lofthouse is a self proclaimed lover of the ancient world and this is readily seen throughout The Centurion’s Son; most especially in his descriptions of the Roman legions.  The camaraderie between the legionaries of the 14th’s !st Century is a definite highlight in this wonderful tale.  Hoover Book Reviews highly recommends this intriguing and well plotted story, and looks forward to the sequel.  4.2 stars

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

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