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

Pax Gallica – Marius Mules IX by SJA Turney

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Things are heating up between Caesar and the Senate.  The Senate calls for him to lay down his legions and return to Rome for prosecution while Caesar seeks to be made a Consul.  Marcus Falerius Fronto, ex-legate of the Tenth Legion has been declared an outlaw and takes his family to Massilia whereupon he decides that despite his differences with Caesar, the only way to regain what the Senate has taken from him is to rejoin Caesar.  Meanwhile there is an uprising in Aquitania led by an enigmatic man known as The Smiling King and Fronto is sent there with one legion made up of veterans ready to retire to put down the incursion and settle the veterans in that region.  Throughout this series, the author has created some very memorable characters, both Roman and barbarian.  In Pax Gallica, that honor belongs to The Smiling King; driven by vengeance, fueled by sacred vows, and totally ruthless in his pursuit to bring down Caesar.  Fronto needs all of the steadfast, professional demeanor of his ‘legion’ just to survive the opening salvos from this new enemy.  Fronto also needs all of his guile and experience to try to stay one step ahead of Smiley but is inexorably and with much loss led to where The Smiling King wants him.  Mr. Turney delivers yet again a muse inspired tale filled with drama, mystery, heroic deeds, loyalty, and most importantly a story of many twists and turns as he sets the stage for the inevitable showdown between Pompey and Caesar.  5 Stars and a Hoover Book Review query, Why haven’t you started this series yet?  🙂

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 VII – The Great Revolt by S.J.A. Turney

1658150_715487928534706_4256521953828207558_o   I have a pretty full plate right now when talking about reading and in my case now, writing.  I have at least three Kindle books to read not including the one I am currently reading and a couple paperbacks as well.  This is now coupled with the writing of my first novel and I would be hesitant to add anything else for the time being.  However when given the chance to beta read a new Marius Mules then hesitancy is forgotten, current read is put on hold and the writing slows for a bit.  Marius Mules VII – The Great Revolt covers the events of 52 BC, the year that Vercingetorix gathers the tribes of Gaul under his banner and wages war against the Roman Pro-Consul Gaius Julius Caesar for the control of Gaul.  Given the many difficult situations Caesar has faced and will face in the future, this revolt I think comes closest to destroying him and in this book the author does a masterful job in portraying the ebb and flow of events.  In a cataclysmic, history defining period such as this it is not enough to hear the story from just the Romans and so in a departure from previous Marius Mules volumes we have an in depth telling of the Gaul point of view as well.  Character development is once again on form; we see and feel the moods, the doubts, the confidence, the emotional toil of both Gaul and Roman.  Fronto our old friend is back to his customary position of fighting in the front ranks but at the same time is beginning to show his age.  We also meet some very interesting new characters especially on the Gaul side.  But to balance out the additions the war takes its toll and we lose some cherished friends…I think there is a point in every one of the Marius Mules series that I start hurling vulgar laden invective at Mr. Turney for killing off various favorites and that trend continues in number 7…but I must state for the record that I really don’t have a problem with it, after all rule number 1 in war is that people die.  Another strong aspect of this book is the amount of research the author did, walking the ancient battlefields and oppidums of Bibracte, Gorgovina and Alesia to name a few.  You get a real feel for the topography, the makeup of the Gaulish oppidum and the circumvalations of Caesar.  Suffice to say that when I finished #7 I knew I had read an excellent retelling of this make it or break it year for Caesar and am already looking forward to #8 – we still have that pesky group of nobles to deal with; you know; Cato, Brutus Cicero and the big man himself, Pompey Magnus.   5 stars and highest recommendation.

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/