The Ides by Peter Tonkin

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The Ides of Mars is fast approaching and there are evil portents aplenty warning Gaius Julius Caesar to beware of the day.  As is well known, Caesar did not heed the warnings; his violent death ushering in another period of Roman civil war and the rise of emperors.  In The Ides the reader experiences a different take on this history shaking event as we follow the story through the eyes and actions of a cadre of agents who seek to protect Caesar from those who would do him harm.  The tale is replete with wonderful characters, a story line that is filled with surprises, and a detailed view of the city of Rome and it’s varied citizenry from lowly plebs and former soldiers to the aristocrats who vie for power during the unsettling aftermath.  I read a lot of Roman historical fiction and this rendering of those climatic days rates up there with then best of them and I’m looking forward to the sequel.  4.3 stars

Marius Mules VIII – Sons of Taranis by SJA Turney

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In this episode of the Marius Mules saga we find both Caesar and Fronto looking forward to the future.  For Caesar, a pacified Gaul has him preparing for his return to Rome and a Consulship.  For Fronto, it is trying to make a go as a wine merchant in a somewhat hostile business environment but at least it is not one requiring one’s skill with a gladius .  This is what both men desire, peace, so as to get on with the next phase of their lives and careers.  Ahh, but peace is an ever elusive and tricky beast and once again, Caesar has revolts and plots to put down and Fronto finds himself not only in a business turf war but also in a scheme by a band a fanatic Gauls whose plan is to release Vercingetorix from his Roman captors.  As per usual with Mr. Turney, the story is written with the intent to further  flesh out the main characters in this saga, so we are given more insights into the minds and actions of men like Varus, Decimus Brutus, the Gaulish noble Caravinos and of course our congenial host in Masillia, Fronto.  Of action, there is plenty, from the scattered pockets of revolt in Gaul, to the streets of Masillia to the…well I’ll not say where as that might be a spoiler.  The plots/story lines are seamlessly woven together and are marked with the occasional twists that make things more interesting.

We all know how the story ends regarding Gaius Julius Caesar but we are a few episodes away from that bloody day in March so it will be with much anticipation that we wait to see how the author gets us to that momentous time.  But as the humble scribbler of the cover blurb for this edition of the saga states, ‘Marius Mules just keeps getting better.’  I couldn’t agree more.  5 stars

Marius Mules: Prelude to War by SJA Turney

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In this 3 story gap filler, the author is setting the stage for the big confrontation between Caesar and Vercingetorix.  It is a very nice appetite whetting segue and includes some (to be expected) twists as well as tying up a loose end in the Milo/Clodius situation.  I read this in one sitting and while that points to the author’s ability to grab my attention, it also means I have to wait longer for the next full volume in this most excellent series.  Next up – Winner Takes Gaul.

 

 

 

Marius Mules VI – Caesar’s Vow by SJA Turney

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Those of you who have read the previous volumes in this series may not find it hard to believe but I will say it anyway…they just keep getting better.  The author left himself a considerable task at the end of book 4…to refresh your memory it is there that the main fictional character, Marcus Falerius Fronto, has a major falling out with his friend and commanding general, Gaius Julius Caesar.  A rift so vast that Fronto leaves the army and spends the whole of book 5 dealing with personal issues while Caesar continues his quest without one of his most trusted advisers and tacticians.  Getting them back together did not seem possible but Simon is nothing if he isn’t a resourceful writer.

Their reunion, put forward by none other than Marcus Antonious, is not an easy one and that is one reason why this book is such a great read.  Nothing is easy…Simon could have had them patch up, shake hands and gone forward right from the beginning of the reunion but that would be too easy and a bit of a boring letdown.  I will say no more lest I give away too much.   The main plots are, for Caesar, the death of Ambiorix, the Eburone King who was responsible for the destruction of two legions and for Fronto, the return to the fold and command of a legion.  Of course, those two aspects of the story are intertwined, converging like two tributaries to the Rhenus and becoming one in the end.

The continued development of the main characters is an ever constant need and has become a strength of the author.  I especially enjoyed the progress of some of the main characters such as:
Caesar – much more human/not the above the fray-confident specimen he is often portrayed as…his conversations with Fronto especially are very telling and interesting
Labienus – another example of a differing representation – not a madman bent on outdoing Caesar
Antonius – now, he is larger than life…imagine Richard Burton meets James Purefoy
Fronto – he has been many things in this series and has grown with it…seeing him as commander of a Navy Seal like operation was well done…
On the fringe and just waiting to burst on the scene is that ever popular Gaulish rebel, Vercingetorix…his brief appearances here leaves one with the impression that he could be the most formidable foe yet to take on Caesar and Fronto.
I throw 5 stars at Simon Turney for yet again turning it up a notch.  Now get to work on Alesia.  🙂 
About the author:

I live with my wife, my slightly barmy son and very vocal daughter, and two (close approximations of) dogs in rural North Yorkshire, where my wife and I both grew up, surrounded by friends and family. A born and bred Yorkshireman with a love of country, I cannot envisage spending my life anywhere else, though my anchor is sometimes tested as the wanderlust hits and we travel wherever I can find the breathtaking remains of the classical world. I have a love of travel and history, architecture and writing and those four interact well enough to keep me almost permanently busy.

Since leaving school and University, I have tried a great number of careers, including car sales, insurance, software engineering, computer network management, civil service and even paint ing and decorating sales. I have lived in four counties and travelled as widely as time and budget allowed and find myself, on the cusp of my fortieth year, back where I began and finally doing something I love.

Having written a number of unpublished short stories in my early days, I decided back in 2003 to try and write a full length novel. That was the start of Marius’ Mules. Being a lover of Roman history, I decided to combine my love of writing and my love of classical history. Marius’ Mules was followed two years later by Interregnum, my attempt to create a new fantasy story still with a heavy flavour of Rome. Since then, the success and popularity of both have inflated my head so that I can no longer comfortably fit through doors, and has spawned sequels to each work, with a third in the fantasy series and the sixth Marius’ Mules now complete, as well as a series set in the 15th century Mediterranean.

I maintain another website detailing the Roman sites I visit and photograph, and write a blog about books. Find me on twitter as @sjaturney. I am an almost terminally chatty person. That’s just a due warning if you feel like contacting me (see above.) I am always happy to speak to people and have put together an FAQ gathered together from things I have been asked previously.   http://sjaturney.co.uk/      http://wordpress.com/read/blog/id/7641919/

review of Marius Mules IV-Conspiracy of Eagles by SJA Turney

I like to tell people that I discovered S.J.A. Turney, author of the Marius’ Mules series.  After all, no one recommended him to me, although that surely would have happened eventually, no one handed me one of his books and insisted I had to read it.  No, the plain truth is I did discover him while patrolling Amazon for new reading material a couple of years ago and have since read the first four books of the series.  This review, while mostly about the fourth installment from his series on the Gaul campaigns of Gaius Julius Caesar, is also about the first three.  My love affair with the historical fiction genre began when I read Mary Renault’s The KIng Must DIe for a high school literature class back in 1968 and has only increased throughout the years.  I am especially drawn to stories of ancient Rome and the conquests by her legions.  In the Marius Mules series, Mr. Turney reconstructs the various campaigns of Caesar in Gaul while he attempts to cement his position of power in Rome.  This time period is one that is visited frequently, for example, Colleen McCullough’s series detailing the fall of the Roman Republic but there is enough variation in character development and plot lines in Marius’ Mules to allow for another in depth foray into the subject matter.

The main protagonist, Marcus Falerias Fronto, Caesar’s legate of the vaunted 10th Legion and one of his closest tactical advisors, has followed Caesar from the beginning but now nagging doubts begin to creep into the relationship. This campaigning season finds Caesar first crossing The Rhone and then The English Channel in pursuit of glory in the form of tribal rebellions.  Some officers in Caesar’s high command openly question the general’s motives and set the stage for the political intrigue that follows Caesar throughout the rest of his life.  The machinations of Caesar are not limited to Gaul as opposition in Rome forces Caesar’s hand to try and bring things under control including the use of that notorious thug, Clodius.  The goings on in Rome are indeed a major factor throughout Caesar’s time in Gaul as he competes with Crassus and Pompey for the right to be First Man in Rome  and Mr. Turney adds some interesting touches to the political battlefield.

As to be expected in any story involving Roman Legions and barbarian tribes, the battles scenes are accurately described in gore filled detail.  The Roman gladius and pilum are as deftly handled by the author’s pen as they are by the battle hardened legionary’s wielding them.  Plots and sub-plots complete with twists and turns is the fuel that feeds this entertaining, thought provoking entry into the Marius’ Mules series.  I am looking forward to Marius’ Mules V and beyond.