Simon Scarrow does an excellent job in generating an insider’s view of life in a Roman Legion. It feels real and immediate, even if it also sometimes feels like British Squaddies kitted-out with shields and short swords.
This a simple but exciting tale, told at just the right pace, in clear, straightforward language. The kind of language you might imagine the Legionaries themselves using.
We see the Legion from the point of view of the fictional Macro, a life-long legionary, recently promoted to Centurion; Cato, a young, well-educated, slave from the Imperial Palace, raised with to appreciate poetry and plays and now sent to the legions as a condition of being granted his freedom; and through the eyes of three real-life characters, Vespasian, the Legate commanding the Second Legion, his wife Flavia and Vitellius a Tribune under Vespasian’s command. The book is set in AD43, when Claudius was planning the invasion of Britain, twenty-six years before both Vitellius and Vespasian would be declared Emperor in “The Year Of The Four Emperors”.
We see the Legion in action as a garrison in Germany and follow it as it becomes part of the invasion force and presses on to meet the Britons. Along the way, Cato learns to become an Optio (second in command to the Centurion, roughly equivalent to a Lieutenant) a rank he does not have the experience for, and we have the fun of learning alongside him.
In addition to real historical events, the plot is driven by a political intrigue, centred around a chest of treasure, that Julius Caesar was forced to abandon as he retreated from Britain a hundred years earlier. It is brought to life by battle scenes that are vivid, physical, blood-soaked and just frequent enough to keep up the tension.
This is a fine start to a march through a particularly turbulent period of Roman history. David Thorpe’s narration is easy on the ear, turning the inside of my head into a cinema screen and letting me sit back and enjoy the fun.
I’m looking forward to the rest of this series. I’ll reach for it whenever I need a relaxing entertainment, spiced with military action and little political intrigue.