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

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Legionary: Gods & Emperors (Legionary 5) by Gordon Doherty

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Once more into the chaos of the Roman Empires in the late 4th Century.  Thrace is overrun with the Gothic horde of Fritigern, threatening to wrest the area away from the Eastern Empire and Emperor Valens. Will the Western Empire and it’s greedy boy emperor, Gratian, arrive in time to ensure a Roman victory or will nefarious doings doom Valens and the XI Claudia?  In this, the fifth book of the series, Gordon Doherty, weaves a masterful tale of intrigue, persistence and soul damning obedience.  By this time, we who have followed the exploits of the XI Claudia, know of the loyalty, love and fears of Pavo, Gallus, Sura and the rest (including the gastric outbursts of Quadratus).  All of those things are put to the test in the dry, dusty and sweltering plains outside of Adrianople in a battle for the region.  The lead up to the final outcome is a treat for the reader’s eyes as the author conjures up gut wrenching turmoil, both in his characters and in the minds of his audience.  As for the final battle, well I must admit that it was hard to get through, though I must also admit that the fault of that lies in the fact that I was doing childcare for my three year old granddaughter while reading it and not with Mr. Doherty.  The author has demonstrated once more his prowess at describing a battle field and the sights and sounds of the terror, bravery and the dying.  A stellar entry into the author’s portfolio of exceptional historical fiction…5 stars.

 

Legionary The Scourge of Thracia by Gordon Doherty

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Typically I look forward to the new releases from Gordon Doherty as he has been a favorite of mine for a few years now.  Also typically, I race through the new release in the utter delight of being unable to put the book down.  Finally, typically, I am devastated when I finish the book because now I have to wait for the next one.  These three typical characterizations were in full force while reading the fourth installment of the Legionary series.  In this edition, the XI Claudia, or what is left of them after book three, is given the task of rebuilding the Legion while defending a strategic mountain pass against the Gothic horde led by Fritigern.  Unknown to the Romans, one of the Goth’s leaders, a very, very nasty specimen, has recruited a troop of Huns and this has a devastating impact on the Roman forces.  While all this is going on, the author gives us more insights into the minds of Pavo and even more so the mind of Tribune Gallus.  These two main characters have been through a lot and Mr. Doherty does a superb job in allowing the reader see them wrestling with their troubled minds and souls.

Eventually Pavo and the rest end up at Trajan’s Gate a mountain pass in modern day Bulgaria in another seemingly impossible situation.  Farnobious, the very, very nasty Goth has broken away from Fritigern and leads his Goths and Huns on a mission to destroy the Romans at Trajan’s Gate.  The descriptive ability of the author stands out throughout the book but I found his blizzard scene the most compelling(maybe because I just went through a blizzard blitz this past winter.)

One more typical feature of any of the author’s books is his penchant for intricate and intriguing plot twists…and boy, are there ever some of those in this book.  Be forewarned…there is stuff happening that will make you glad book five is in the works.  5 stars and a hearty Hoover Book Reviews recommendation.

Strategos 3 Island in the Storm by Gordon Doherty

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First off let me say that I have a major beef with Mr. Doherty and I am sure that all of you who read the words of this humble scribe will agree once you finish Island in the Storm.  This series has been among the best I’ve read and now it is over and that my friends is the cause of my discontent.  However, the sheer brilliance in this third volume does tend to soften the blow.  This is storytelling at it’s finest, the drama, the emotion, the horrors of war, the loss of friends; in all these and more the author is at the top of his game.  Throughout the book we are part of the struggle not only between Byzantium-Diogenes Romanus and the Seljuk Turk Alp Arslan but also to the powers seeking to supplant Romanus and too, Alp Arslan.  The plots and twists are the ever present backdrop to the building climatic battle at Manzikert on August 26, 1071.  As a describer of battle scenes Mr. Doherty has always brought the sights, sounds and smells to the readers senses but in this battle, one that covers so much time and space and has so many ebbs and flows coupled with the ferocity and emotional trauma, the author delivers a coup de grace.  As expected Apion, The Haga, has a destiny to fulfill and is faced with making choices that will determine not only his future but the future of much more.  The characters be they likable(Sha, Blastares, et. al.) or be they repulsive(Psellos, John Doukas, et. al.) are done beautifully and imbue the story with the realities of the time and situation.  In short, this series may be over but it is certainly going out on a very high note.  5 stars

Strategos: Rise of the Golden Heart by Gordon Doherty

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I have read three of Mr. Doherty’s books and liked them a lot.  Given that his track record is superb I expected nothing less than that same excellence from Strategos: Rise of the Golden Heart.  If I was previously enthralled with his work, and not just a little jealous, I am even more so now.

It has been twelve years since the end of book 1 and Apion is now a Strategos and his reputation as The Haga grows after every battle or skirmish with his Seljuk enemies.  His development as a strong, decisive leader of men is countered somewhat by the soul sickening events of his past.  We find him not only having to cope with his turmoil on an emotional level but physically as well given that his most obdurate foe, once his best friend, has sworn vengeance and death to The Haga.  Mr. Doherty plays this sub-plot beautifully and adds some unforeseen results…(no spoilers  J ).

Once again, the author has put together a story line with abundant twists, turns and surprises.  One in particular had my mind screaming OMG or was it WTF when, no wait, no spoilers here boys and girls, suffice to know that the author has not lost his touch for mystery and intrigue.  Neither has the author neglected to do his homework.  The battles are first rate, the geography is well described and the everyday events of 11th century Byzantium are evidence of the research.

Relentless action, political intrigue, betrayal, bitter foes and steadfast friends – the list goes on and on and I’m pretty sure will carry over to book 3.  Well done Mr. Doherty.   I rate this book at 4.8.

Legionary 2 Viper of the North by Gordon Doherty

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The decision to read Legionary 2 at this particular time was made despite the fact that I am currently in the process of reading many different series including Mr. Doherty’s Strategos, Angus Donald’s Outlaw, Giles Kristian’s Raven, Robert Fabbri’s Vespasian, Ben Kane’s Hannibal and SJA Turney’s Marius Mules & Ottoman Cycle.  So as you can see there was a lot of excellent material to choose from.  Having decided to go with either Legionary 2 or Strategos 2 next, I sent a tweet to Gordon Doherty asking him as to which I should choose.  He re-tweeted asking if I preferred to be in the baking sun or a wintry blizzard.  Well given the 95 degree temperatures and 100% humidity we have endured the last week, the wintry blizzard won out.

The Goths are uniting under a mysterious shade from the past, The Viper, who has only the destruction of The Roman Empire on his mind.  This part of The Empire is not well manned by The Legions and would seem to be ripe targets for the Gothic Invasion.  That is the main storyline and one that is riveting in its telling and imaginative in its scope.  However, as good as that story is, it is the detailed characterizations making up this story that really sells the goods.  The main characters are each imbued with the secrets that make them tick, make them do the things they do, make them live and breathe despite their doubts and nightmares.  Pavo and his search for truth, Avitus for atonement, Gallus for peace, these and many other torments and desires are hidden deep in each one’s mind and draw the reader in to experience the turmoil.

Throughout the telling of this tale there are many likable rogues most especially in the XI Claudia, the core if you will of that depleted Border Legion would fit in well with Vespasian’s 2nd Legion  with Macro and Cato or with Fronto’s 10th Legion with Caesar in Marius Mules.  Of course any tale worth telling has to have the not so likable and this tale has plenty to go around and not all of them are Gothic but even a couple of them find redemption of some sort.

Along with the chaos and mayhem of battle, the author also gives us some very nice twists and turns along the way not the least of which is the identity of The Viper.  That revelation is certainly a stunner and really adds to the drama.   It is a well written and researched episode and I look forward to the next one in the series.

I rate this at 4.5

A note on Hoover Book Reviews new rating policy:

In order to have a little more leeway in rating a book we at Hoover Book Reviews are adopting the following policy.  The system will still be based on 1-5 stars but with tenth of a point intervals, so a book that we in the past have rated 5 stars can now be more accurately fixed at say 4.5 or 4.2…etc etc.  Of course this will only be reflected in the review itself as I cannot change Amazon’s restrictive, whole numbers only method.

Strategos – Born in the Borderlands by Gordon Doherty

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Apion is a lost soul, doomed to a life of servitude and mockery.  Losing his family to a band of mysterious raiders and horribly wounded himself he is rescued from his slavery by an unlikely source, a Seljuk farmer.  Unlikely because he is a Christian and tensions are high between the proponents of Islam and the proponents of Christ in the borderlands of the Byzantine Empire.  This is a story of how Apion overcomes his physical limitations and rises up through the ranks of the borderland garrison in the face of the invasion by Tugrul – The Falcon – and the Seljuk horde bent on the destruction of anything Byzantine.

The author, Gordon Doherty, has crafted a marvelous telling of the period when The East meets The West in the throes of Constantinople’s decline.  You can feel the heat, hear the cicadas and experience the ironies of the many conflicted emotions in this saga of redemption, reward and revenge.    As with any good book, the main protagonist needs an enemy, someone to focus his attention, someone to keep him going no matter the pain and the author does not disappoint.  Not only does Apion have to deal with Seljuk warriors but also with elements within the garrison, a couple of real nasty specimens who just so happen  work for The Emperor.

I really enjoyed this journey.   It brings home the fact that we too live in a time of turmoil, that East vs. West is continuing to create uncertainty and fear. It is also a wonderful story in itself but also leaves you wanting more so strap on your scimitar and head to Anatolia for this excellent tale but leave room for the sequel.