Hero of Rome by Douglas Jackson

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!

Fields of Blood by Ben Kane

fieldsofblood

Tackling an epic time of history, one in which the outcome will determine the future of Western Europe and beyond, is a heady task to say the least and Ben Kane has met the challenge.  Think about the enormity of the consequences of this decade’s long conflict between Carthage and Rome.  If Carthage wins then our world today would be different in some fashion…hmmm, sounds like a good idea for an alternative history story; but I digress.

Cannae – 50,000 Roman soldiers, 8000 Carthaginians – that is indeed a lot of blood.  This second book in the series takes off where Hannibal Enemy of Rome ends.  Rome is reeling from Hannibal’s successes in crossing The Alps and defeating every legion it comes up against, leading to the twin disasters of Lake Trasimene and Cannae.  The main characters, Hanno and Quintus have grown much during this time, are now war hardened, blooded infantrymen.  The author does a superb job in his development of his characters, both major and minor, good guys and not so good guys.  You can still feel the emotion and struggles of Hanno regarding his slave past, his love for Aurelia and the intense friction between he and his brothers.  Quintus in the meantime has rebelled against his father and has secretly become an infantryman rather than suffer the indignity of being sent home.

The story goes back and forth between Hanno, Quintus and Aurelia so we get good views and descriptions of the daily lives of a Carthaginian phalanx, a Roman maniple and the struggles of those left behind to keep the family out of the clutches of unscrupulous loan sharks.  The author is in top form as he brings us into the lives of these perplexed individuals as they contend with the fact that their countries are bitter foes and yet they have emotional bonds with each other that transcend the hostilities.

The two major battles of this book, Lake Trasimene and Cannae are dramatically retold and one cannot help but wonder at Hannibal’s military genius and the confounding inability of the Romans to counter that genius.  The end of this episode finds Hanno exultant and Quintus wondering how he is still alive.  This well crafted story is a must for any who love stories that bring you the agonies and ecstasies, the highs and lows of human emotions in a war torn country.  Well done Mr. Kane, looking forward to the next installment.  I rate this book at 4.8.

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.