Swords Around The Throne (Twilight of Empire) by Ian Ross

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Swords Around The Throne (Twilight of Empire) by Ian Ross

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: The second of Ian Ross' action-packed historical fiction series proves some roles in the 4th century Roman Empire were more dangerous than being in battle - Centurion Aurelius Castus finds himself back on mainland Europe in Emperor Constantine's bodyguard.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: July 2015
Publisher: Head of Zeus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1784081164

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Centurion Aurelius Castus' time in Britain is over but not his propensity for being on the wrong side of danger. Due to an adventure on the journey, he comes to the notice of Emperor Constantine and is promoted to his elite bodyguard – the swords around the throne. The multiple emperor model that has evolved to govern the Empire is shaky, to say the least, riven by plots, conspiracies and worse. Therefore Castus' new job is neither safe nor easy but it's not something he can refuse… unfortunately!

British author Ian Ross brings us the second in his exemplary Twilight of Empire Roman historical fiction series that started so dramatically with The War at the Edge of the World, once again proving what a mine of intrigue the 4th century was.

We may know or guess a little of the political infighting and regularity of suspicious death in the Roman-ruled world. However, Ian provides us with a different viewpoint. Our hero Castus is in the middle of it, charged with the prevention of personal harm to Constantine, a man who openly courts it on a daily basis. Considering some of the plots are hatched by those with a much higher social standing than Castus could ever hope to achieve, can he and his colleagues be more than merely the equivalent of the King Canutes of coups? Needless to say, it's not all work and no play for our former Centurion but not all is as it seems.

One thing that is exactly as it seems is the excitement generated by the action. It's bloody and realistic from the start, causing us to lose old friends along the way without a second thought from the author. We've come to realise that Ian is no respecter of readers' favourites when it comes to generating shocks (not to mention reflecting the fickleness of conflict) and you know what? We thank him for it.

Again as we've come to expect from Ian, the historical insights are wonderful in both the novel and the notes at the back. For any of us who have wondered (and don't be shy – I'm sure we all have), this time we're shown the Roman methods of eunuch creation. Yes, that's right, what they did to men to… I must admit that even reading that particular passage as a woman made me wince a little. Please don't let this put you off though; it's signposted and so can be skipped without spoiling the story for those with an overly empathetic imagination.

We also learn of the Roman dichotomy between belief/superstition and the law. The use of magic and communing with the dead may be outlawed but it still goes on throughout all layers of Empirical society. Here Ian takes the opportunity to reiterate that his books are historical fiction rather than fantasy in that it's left to our own logic or leanings to decide whether events are due to magic or more mundane means.

Once we've gone through the thrilling climax we come away with more than a graphic idea of the feuds and vendettas and an urge to start reading again; we renew our desire to see this photogenic series as a movie franchise. Meanwhile, another novel follows for which we thank the Caesars and, of course, Ian Ross.

(Thank you to the folk at Head of Zeus for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: Although this novel does work as a one-off, you'd be cheating yourself out of something good if you don't read The War at the Edge of the World. If you've read it and would like to continue in the Roman riff, we just as heartily recommend The Bull Slayer by Bruce Macbain or The Silver Eagle (Forgotten Legion) by Ben Kane.

Ian Ross's Twilight of Empire Series in Chronological Order

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