I must confess at the outset that the portrayal of Caligula that is permanently etched in my mind is John Hurt’s magnificent, raving lunatic character in I, Claudius. Having said that, I must also confess that if any author could convince me otherwise, it would be Simon Turney. As proof of that I submit his Gaius Julius Caesar from the Marius Mules series, his Caesar is much more convincing than say, Colleen McCullough’s, and I loved the way her Caesar turned out. Told through the person of his sister Livilla, we find a Caligula who was protective, caring and very shrewd; qualities that were necessary while Tiberius and Sejanus ran amok through the descendants of Germanicus. That’s not to say he didn’t have some issues that gave wings to his destructive behavior later – but I will not divulge much of that aspect except to say that irony plays an important role. Indeed, the author has done another splendid job in creating a tale full of surprises, even if he does shred my preconceived ideals first encountered in the writing of Robert Graves. 🙂 I have had the pleasure of reading many of Mr. Turney’s books; this new series on some of the more, shall we say colorful emperors, is off to a robust start. 5 stars
A most enjoyable journey is this, the third book in the Praetorian series. Rufinus has been dispatched on a mission to a remote corner of the Empire; a mission that demands success from the odious chancellor Cleander, who has Rufinus’ brother held hostage to ensure this success. What follows is a roller coaster of a ride as Rufinus, Senova, and Acheron the wonder dog traverse the Danubian world seeking to find evidence of treason among the area’s governors. Once again, the author transported me to a region of the globe I am not too familiar with, but which he has trod, and the result is a dazzling display of descriptive narrative. This combined with a flair for fascinating characters, wonderful dialogue, and a truly believable tale make Eagles of Dacia an entertaining read. The only question I have for Mr. Turney is this: why do you dislike Rufinus so much? After all the torment and pain he endured in the first two books, he could have used a bit of a breather. Just kidding, after all, that’s one of the traits that makes Rufinus so interesting; his resilience under extreme duress. 4.8 stars – maybe he’ll catch a break in book 4. 🙂
The 6th and final book in this fantasy/real world series has the author not only telling tall tales, but also a cautionary tale reflecting the cyclical nature of history – and an uncanny reflection of modern day political madness. The theme of East versus West with the battleground in the middle is prevalent as the Jade Emperor and the Western Emperor decide they both want to stretch their boundaries, with the land of Inda being the prize. It is a story filled with irony as the three sons of a minor Inda rajah choose different paths for their lives as the Jade Empire begins it’s conquest. The irony doesn’t stop there, but I will not say more about that, I will let the reader enjoy the unfolding tension and unexpected developments without any spoilers from me.
In the many books I have read by Mr. Turney, I was always blown away with his mastery of description, and he doesn’t disappoint in this one. An example is the telling of the monsoon season and the effects it has on the land and on the two armies facing each other across a vast plain they cannot cross. The differences in the three cultures, the differing approaches to the military; the differences in religion; the differences in the ruling hierarchies – all are exquisitely told.
This has been an exciting and thoroughly entertaining ride through The Tales of the Empire, and I highly recommend it. 4.8 stars
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
Life north of Hadrian’s Wall was tough enough for the tribes who lived there without having to deal with the cruelties of the Emperor’s son and his equally cruel Numidian cavalry. In this short, what if tale, a Roman auxiliary, from a tribe that is loyal to Rome and his wife, whose tribe is on the brink of rebellion come face to face with Caracalla and his prized cavalry unit. It is an exciting story of divided loyalties stretched to their limits in the pursuit of peace with Rome. The duo of Downie and Turney combine their talents and their expertise in things Briton and Roman and give us a glimpse of life on that tumultuous frontier and though the story is fictional, it is one that is totally believable, and that is testament to the authors’ creative abilities. 4.2 stars
If there’s one thing I’ve learned after reading so many of Mr. Turney’s works, it is that to expect the unexpected. In this the fifth volume in Tales of the Empire we find the Empire invading the isle of Alba; it is reminiscent of Rome in Britain but with enough plot twists to keep the reader guessing as this invasion is fraught with much more than just battles between 3 legions and tribal warriors. As in the previous four volumes in this series, we are introduced to a whole new set of characters and with the action mostly on Alba, a new location. Once again, the author shines as he creates his characters with a wide range of personalities. The three tribunes are a good example of that as each one has something different about him to bring to the table. Of nasty specimens be assured that there are plenty and they are wonderful additions indeed. The reader also gets to enjoy the imaginative descriptive prowess of the author as he paints a vivid picture of the surroundings and the hill forts; especially the fortress of the Queen. Another winner for Mr. Turney; that’s also to be expected. 🙂
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? 🙂