Marius Mules V – Hades Gate

Once again I found myself enthralled by a book by S.J.A. Turney.  That shouldn’t be so easy as this series takes place in one of my favorite periods of ancient history and involves some of the more colorful/powerful men in Rome’s history and as such I expect a lot from writers who tackle those subject matters.  I have yet to be disappointed by Mr. Turney’s efforts.  At the end of MM IV the main character in the series, Marcus Falerius Fronto had a seemingly irreparable falling out with Caesar which means he will be spending this campaigning season in Rome and Puteoli instead of Britain and Gaul.  Trouble and more finds him anyway in many guises, from the maddened Pompey to a revenge seeking German, no place is safe for Fronto or his family and friends.

Meanwhile, Caesar has his own difficulties in Britain and then with the threat of a somewhat united Gaul rising up against him.  With his officer corps somewhat depleted, Caesar finds it necessary to bring in experienced men from other legions.  Thus the author introduces, who because of the HBO series, Rome, are probably known to most of us already;  Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus have important roles to play as senior centurions in the 14th Legion.  There are differences between the Rome versions and the two crafted by the author one of them being the fact that they are both centurions and Pullo is the more senior of the two.  I think that it is interesting to note that Pullo and Vorenus , I believe, are the only two legionaries mentioned by name in Caesar’s War Commentaries so it is only fitting that they play their part in Marius Mules, although I do conjure up the faces of Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson when reading their parts in the book.

The dual plots are handled in such a way that it seems each scene ends in a cliff hanging scenario which only spurs the reader to keep going in spite of the lateness of the hour.  With each volume in this series the main characters keep progressing in their development, those that survive anyway as the author has a knack for surprises when it comes to not only the intrigue of the story lines but with who gets rubbed out.  Not that that is a bad thing, war and other nefarious characters are always ready to claim a victim or two, though I have found myself shouting at the ceiling, ‘oh my God, he killed so and so.’

Like a devious-devising Kronos, S.J.A. Turney weaves a tale of intrigue and action in Marius Mules V – Hades Gate.  Like the previous volumes in this series Hades Gate is historical fiction at it’s best.  Great time of history, wonderful characters and the raw power of a Roman Legion shield wall have me looking longingly forward to Marius Mules VI…they just keep getting better.

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.