Caligula lies dead by the hands of assassins. Claudius, the drooling fool is proclaimed Emperor but his rule will be a short one unless he wins over the legions. To do that his three conniving freedmen, Narcissus, Pallas and Callistus, concoct a scheme of breath taking magnitude. Thus we find Vespasian and his brother Sabinus on a seemingly impossible mission to find and return the lost Eagle of the 17th Legion; lost 30 years prior in the Teutoburg Forest massacre. What follows is a masterful story of danger, excitement and unrelenting action coupled with the snake-oil, behind the scenes plotting of the powers behind Claudius; not only of his freedmen but of his devious wife Messalina. Mr. Fabbri has created a compelling tale of Vespasian and his ever increasing belief in himself and his destiny. His leadership qualities and his abilities as a warrior come to the fore in this volume of what is a great series of books. From the vast and dark forests of Germania to the savage battles fought for Claudius’ benefit in Britain, Rome’s Fallen Eagle takes the reader on a splendid ride indeed. 5 stars
When I mentioned on social networks that I was reading Hero of Rome by Douglas Jackson I was informed that I was going to love this book. Well between the time I started it and finished it I had begun writing my own novel(my first)…the main reason it took me so long to finish Hero. Normally I would have read a book this intriguing in a much shorter time frame but I needed to take time to get my efforts off the ground. The biggest problem I have encountered while having both balls in the air is this; Douglas Jackson is masterful. If I can be one-quarter as descriptive…if I can be one-tenth the character developer that he is, I will be a happy author. He has written a book that draws you right into the hearts and minds of his characters, most especially the main character, Gaius Valerius Verrens.
The place is Britain prior to and then during Boudicca’s revolt. Valerius is a Tribune assigned to Colonia, the town where the temple to Claudius was built. He is due to return to Rome to begin his climb up the political ladder but finds himself instead in an impossible situation having to defend the town against a force of really ticked off British tribes that is at least ten times larger than what he has at his disposal. The first part of the book deals with the politics and policies used by Rome to bring Britain into “civilization”. Naturally some Roman officials are overly dismissive of these barbarians in their charge and that is the fuel that ignites the tinderbox that Boudicca fans into a full fledged bloody revolt. The last part of the book, the revolt itself, is an edge of the seat, page turning brilliant example of great historical fiction writing. When I finished I knew I would be reading the rest of the books in this series which I am told by my social network friends are even better than the first. Oh my!
I must confess that while reading this I couldn’t help but wonder what one thing about the book really grabbed my attention; something to focus a review on. As I continued, I gradually realized that it was the whole understated approach in this narrative that was the one thing. Now that may sound strange but I found the author’s style to be subtle yes, but also descriptive and educational. Let me set up the story a little, the narrator is Cogidubnus a priest and King of the Regenses and who was elevated to Great King of Britain by Claudius. The point in the story where I saw through the subliminal like message of the text was Cogidubnus telling his audience of his first visit to Rome. The awe inspiring splendor of Rome as seen through the eyes of a wattle and thatch hut existence woke me up to the descriptive talents of the author.
The protagonist sees himself as a priest first even after Claudius elevates him. He always strives for a peaceful solution as this best pleases the gods, but there are times and events during his long reign that are far from peaceful. He not only has to deal with the likes of Caratacos and Boudicca but with mostly uncaring, stubborn Roman officials. There are exceptions to the avarice driven as Cogidubnus makes a lifelong friend in Vespasian and has a decent rapport with Claudius. I really enjoyed how Vespasian was introduced into the story, cleverly done.
The ebb and flow of the tale meanders back and forth from events in the early and middle parts of Cogidubnus reign as Great King to the present day governorship of Agricola, the death of Vespasian and Titus the new Emperor. It is an interesting time period and that brings me to another strong point of the narrative and that is; as you read this story you learn stuff. I suppose that is to be expected given that the author is a historian and scholar, he probably can’t help himself. 🙂 The depth of detail speaks of meticulous research and knowledge of the subject matter and is subtle in delivery. Not like my college history professor who would pace from one end of the room to the other showering us with his wisdom when he would stop and exclaim, ‘Oh this is important, write this down word for word.’
This is an enjoyable read. I rate it 4 stars.