Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Books: Soldier of Rome: The Legionary by James Mace

One of Rome’s biggest defeats on the battlefield was by the German war chief Arminius (an ancient form of the name Herman; thus Rome was undone by Herman the German) in 9 A.D. Arminius was working for the Romans as an auxiliary, and won the trust of the incompetent general Quintilius Varus. Leading the Roman Legionaries into a trap in Teutoburger Forest, three full legions were lost with few survivors. This was devastating to Emperor Augustus Caesar, who used to bang his head on the palace doors and utter, “Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!”
In Soldier of Rome, six years after the fatal attack Artorius is a new recruit into the legions. His brother Metellus was killed at Teutoburger, and all he wants is revenge against the barbarians who killed him. Artorius is with the army that invades Germany to take revenge. The aim of this incursion was not conquest, but annihilation.
Mace writes a potboiling adventure novel that demands the reader’s attention from page one. He uses his own army experience to lend verisimilitude to the training, fighting and camaraderie scenes between soldiers. Mace describes legionary training, the organization of the army and battle strategy and tactics without bogging down the reader in endless minutia. He folds his world-building organically into the story, teaching his reader about the Ancient Roman world without their knowing they’ve been taught.
Eventually the new Legion arrives at Teutoburger to survey the damage. The soldiers are a mix of new recruits, experienced veterans and survivors of the original massacre. The army travels deep into the German interior to punish the tribes responsible for the ambush. Ultimately there is no safe man, woman or child east of the Rhine River.
Mace is a writer who lives in the Ancient Roman mindset. You won’t find 2015 attitudes, manners and worldviews here. Parts of the book are difficult to read, especially when the Romans take their final revenge on German warriors and their families. But this is a gripping, action-packed story, full of massive battles, political maneuvers, gladiatorial combats and soldiers being soldiers. I couldn’t put it down, and can’t wait to read the next in the series about Legionary Artorius and his friends. Soldier of Rome: The Legionary brings the ancient world alive.
Rating: **** out of 5 stars

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