I can remember a school visit to the Roman Fort at Vindolanda, which is part of Hadrian’s Wall near Hexham in the UK. The southern part of the UK is riddled with evidence of the Roman occupation, but the wall reveals that sometimes even the great Roman Army had to call it a day. In more recent times the Druids are only thought of as the hippy like men and women who access Stonehenge at the summer solstice each year. It was long thought that the ancient Druids built “The Henge”, but it has recently been attributed to earlier ancestors from the Neolithic age. Whilst I remember learning much about the Romans and their inventions and civilisation at school, in a kind of ‘what did the Roman’s ever do for us’ type of scenario, but without the humour. I feel that the Iceni, Druids and Celts were somewhat brushed over. Maybe its because they left less great edifices and art in their wake, plus their lifestyle, social behaviour and histories were lost in time. I do recall hearing about Boudica or Boadicea, the warrior queen. However, her story was almost lost to us too. Only being unearthed by a cleric during the renaissance, when the idea of a warrior queen was useful in the promotion of Queen Elizabeth I and which received renewed interest during the reign of another female monarch, Queen Victoria. Boudica’s story and that of the Roman invasion of Britain, has led to many books, films and TV series, most recently Britannia a series from Sky TV which mixed history with fantasy, tapping into the enthusiasm created by Game of Thrones.
This brings us to this month’s first book review, its Death to the Emperor by Simon Scarrow and published Headline Publishing Group ( http://www.headline.co.uk ) on the 10th November.
This is the 21st book in the Eagles of the Empire series. This epic series covers the period from AD 42 to AD 60 and ranges from Britannia to the Eastern parts of the Roman Empire to the Mediterranean before returning to Britannia once more. Simon Scarrow has obviously done a huge amount of research into the period and the plots are historically correct and the descriptions of life, military campaigns, weaponry, and people technically accurate. He has fleshed out the bare narrative of history with real characters and real emotion.
The reader finds themselves in Britannia in AD60, The Roman Empire’s hold on the province is fragile. Even amongst the tribes who are sworn loyalty, dissent simmers. In distant Rome. Nero is blind to danger. Prefect Cato is in command of a vast army gathered by the Roman governor, who plans to quell trouble and hostilities in the West. He’d prefer to have his loyal comrade, Centurion Macro by his side but Macro is left in charge of a skeleton force of veteran reservists. With Boudica’s husband, the King of the Iceni dead, his widow is in charge of her people. Will their slow burning anger at their mistreatment by the Romans burst into rebellion? Cato and Macro face deadly battles against enemies who would rather die than succumb to Roman rule and the future of Britannia hangs in the balance.
I hadn’t read the previous books in this series but I’m happy to report that this book reads well as a a standalone novel. As previously mentioned the key to the success of this story is the fine historical detail. The plot could be transferred to more modern times and still work. A group of underdogs in an unequal battle for their freedom, corruption, a cast of lead roles who are trying to do the right thing within a massive, unforgiving organisation. But as with other great author’s of historical fiction, such as Hilary Mantell, Bernard Cornwell and Philippa Gregory, it is the attention to historical detail that makes all the difference. When you truly believe that you can see the landscape, smell the smells and feel the weight of the sword, the author has cracked it.
This is English author Simon Scarrow’s ( http://www.simonscarrow.co.uk ) thirty fifth book, although he has written another three with T.J. Andrews and one with Lee Francis. The majority are historical fiction set in the Roman era, as well as a series set in the Wellington and Napoleonic era. Most of them have featured in the top of the Sunday Times bestseller lists. On leaving school he followed his love of history by becoming a teacher, before taking up writing full time. His Roman era Eagles of the Empire series sold over 4 million copies of the books in the UK alone and his work has been translated into 24 languages. He lives in Norfolk.
This book does contain a lot of detail on military kit, how the army was made up, and the methods used in battle. Some may feel it is more of a man’s read because of the battle scene descriptions but I have enjoyed the depictions, felt the tension and learned a few interesting facts about the way the Roman’s fought. It may however be a great introduction to fiction for that man in your life who usually enjoys biographies and non-fiction.
I would recommend storming your local bookshop to secure your copy as soon as possible.
Reviewed by Georgina Murphy
This book review is part of a blog tour organised by Ransom PR. To see what the other reviewers thought of the book, visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.