The War at the Edge of the World: Twilight of Empire: Book One (Rome Reborn) by Ian Ross
|The War at the Edge of the World: Twilight of Empire: Book One (Rome Reborn) by Ian Ross|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A Roman Centurion takes his men on an easy mission as bodyguard to a Roman emissary to the Picts. What could possibly go wrong? Let's start with nothing being as it seems but that's not where it ends. Ripping stuff – a first in series that defies any thought of boredom.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 416||Date: January 2015|
|Publisher: Head of Zeus|
Centurion Aurelius Castus has risen through the ranks from the crack legions of the Danube but now finds himself in a Roman army on the very edge of the world – 4th century Britain, near Eboracum. Although his men are kept at battle fitness, his latest mission is one of peace. He must take a cohort to escort an envoy on a visit to the barbarian Picts. The local tribes are in the process of picking a new leader and, as the area's future is resting on it, the Romans want to influence the choice with diplomacy. However not everyone has been honest with Castus; people, as well as situations, are not all they seem. Castus must depend on his own initiative and ability to survive as he soon realises he can trust no one.
British author Ian Ross has worked as a teacher in both the UK and Italy where he developed his love of ancient history. He now lives in Bath but hasn't forgotten his European travels. (Actually, he has little chance of forgetting; in Bath as the Romans are still very much in evidence.) In fact in this, the first of his War at the Edge of the World series, he animates the 4th-century Roman occupation of Britain to such an extent that the likes of Ben Kane and Conn Iggulden are raving about it – two acclaimed authors who don't rave lightly.
Indeed, please dismiss any thought of my usual first-in-series-expect-slow-build-up-next-may-be-better lecture. The build-up in Ian's world runs into pages rather than volumes and even as he builds he draws us in.
Aurelius Castus is a salt-of-the-earth bloke who is not overly endowed with social graces or classy ancestry, or indeed great ambition. He's just doing his job, taking care of his men, following orders and trying to survive. However, the deeper into this adventure he goes, the greater the ambition for survival gets.
It's his series so that's a ready-made spoiler as to whether he lives or not, but the action at such a pitch we tend to forget that as we're taken to the edge of our seats. The action comes thick and fast, often unpredictably. Which reminds me; don't even try to predict which companions or enemies Castus will take to the next novel with him as Ian is no respecter of our affection or loyalty towards characters or how great we think they'll be in future books. Everyone is on the line and the novel shines as a result.
If Ian ever fancies a break from writing (but please, only a short one) he should train other academics-turned-hist-fict-authors in how to seamlessly combine research with momentum; he makes a fine art of it. While trying to draw breath and marvelling at some of the out-of-left-field twists, we are entertained by some wonderful factional moments.
We see the dangers inherent in being a follower of the new sect of Jeshua, a certain Middle Eastern carpenter. We realise why many Roman soldiers in illustrations have broken noses (nothing to do with battle). We learn of the way the Empire was run at this stage by two senior and two junior Ceasars, none of whom seemed to be that chummy with their ruling colleagues.
As for the Picts, they may seem barbaric to the Romans but they have some intelligent tricks up their collective sleeve, including an ingenious choice of shield. Oh and don't be too squeamish about their victory tree; we may have changed things slightly but where do you think we got our Christmas bauble idea from?
Indeed this may be the first in series, but Castus Aurelius bursts onto the hist-fict scene with a series panache rarely seen this early, leaving us in hope that he lives on for many more adventures (many, many, many more).
(Thank you very much, Head of Zeus, for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you like a good Roman tale with a twist, try Roman Games (Plinius Secundus) by Bruce Macbain. On the other hand, if you're wondering what Ban Kane's and Conn Iggulden's entitlements to rave are, we heartily recommend Ben's The Forgotten Legion (remaining on the Roman vibe) and Conn's (non-Roman) Stormbird (Wars of the Roses 1).
The War at the Edge of the World: Twilight of Empire: Book One (Rome Reborn) by Ian Ross is in the Top Ten Historical Fiction Books of 2015.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The War at the Edge of the World: Twilight of Empire: Book One (Rome Reborn) by Ian Ross at Amazon.com.
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