When I unpacked this, the good lady and kids extracted the urine unmercifully. “Bet you don’t read it,” “you’re not interested in ancient history,” and “not your usual style,” were three of the more polite comments. And it’s true: the book, certainly on face value, appeared not to be to my usual tastes: or was it one that I’d ever likely buy for myself. But this is where taking pot-luck with the books that AG has often scores a bulls-eye and opens your eyes to the possibilities of other genres. The family were all wrong, and I really took this one.
The book was quite a slow burner to start with, but once about a third of the way in it really warmed up and sped along at quite a nippy pace. The fact that it is set in Roman times is almost irrelevant: this book is all about war and camaraderie. Whilst the story is fictional, it would appear that at least some of the events are factual, and Arminius did indeed lose three legions to the Germans. I also learned (though I had to google it) that Roman soldiers did actually wear hob-nailed sandals!
The meat of the story is about Felix, a troubled individual with a dark and murky past, and how he fits in with his new section (Titus, Moon, Rufus, Chicken, Micon and Cnaeus) after being found alone in rather dubious circumstances alongside a troop of dead Roman soldiers. From this point forward, you are never quite sure just which side Felix is on. The story is gory, in fact, it revels in it; the language is ripe and possibly suited to more recent conflicts than those of ancient Rome. The book is also full of highly descriptive texts: “The sword sliced his neck and the blood flowed out like bolting horses.”
I did find the ending a bit of a let down. In fact, it almost felt rushed as if the author was simply trying to end the story. I felt it was incredibly weak and could have been far stronger with a little effort. However, the story might not end here. There is ample scope for follow up stories on at least two of the characters.
The book that I have is a proof copy and I did notice a couple of typos and other misprints that I trust will be sorted prior to the production run. The blurb on the jacket claims that this book is ‘Gladiator meeting Full Metal Jacket’. Having never encountered either, I can’t say if this is an accurate description or not.
2017 continues well: another enjoyable book that I’ll happily run to 4 anchors on.