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Sunday, August 9, 2009
Official James Mace Website
Official SJA Turney Website
Find Books, Games, DVD's about the Ancient World in famous novelist Steven Saylor extraordinary online resource "Steven' Shops" (HERE/US) and (HERE/UK)
INTRODUCTION: I am a big fan of historical fiction set in Roman times - and to a lesser extent set in ancient times - but I have one crucial requirement, namely the books should be reasonably accurate historically and reflect the period. That will excuse a lot for me including flattish prose or typos, while conversely a book that grossly distorts history or is just a "mystery/adventure in togas" that essentially could be set in modern times since it reflects our attitudes and mores rather than the period ones could be a masterpiece of literary writing and still would go on my "not for me" pile.
The modern references for Roman historical fiction are Colleen McCullough's masterpiece series in seven volumes Masters of Rome with Steven Saylor' Gordianus series coming a close second.
As linked above Mr. Saylor has tons of related material on his website and I check it occasionally as well as let him know when I find out about something of interest for listing there.
This is how I found about the superb James Mace Legionary series currently at 3 volumes, the last one "Heir to Rebellion" being just published and will constitute the subject of a full review here in a week or two.
The other novel I will discuss today "Marius' Mules" from SJA Turney, author of the superb historical fantasy "Interregnum" (FBC Review) has been brought to my attention by a review inquiry here and I enjoyed it a lot too.
OVERVIEW: "Soldier of Rome" started as a self-published novel full of typos and written in a pedestrian style which captured perfectly the soldier life in the Roman legions under Augustus and Tiberius as far as we know it from historical records. As such, it resonated a lot with its audience - including myself - so that a new improved and corrected edition has been reissued by the author, while volumes two "The Sacrovir Revolt" and the current installment "Heir to Rebellion" show a massive improvement both in the quality of writing and of the presentation.
The series follows Artorius a young Roman who as a boy growing up in Augustus' Rome of AD 9 worships his older brother Metellus, a very promising young legionary on the German frontier. But as it is well known, Arminius and the Teutoburg Forest awaits the Rhine Legions and their inept commander Varus and Metellus dies heroically saving some comrades who are among the very few survivors of the famous disaster.
The loss of Metellus devastates Artorius' family but later when he becomes of age to enlist he immediately does so and goes to the Rhine too. The Roman legions there are now under the able leadership of Rome's greatest general of the time, Augustus' stepson, son in law, later adopted son and heir Tiberius, while upon Tiberius' ascension, his nephew Germanicus, the younger rising Roman general takes command and prepares an expedition to defeat Arminius once and for all.
After the Teutoburg interlude, the first novel takes place from Artorius' coming of age in 15AD through the famous campaign of Germanicus in 16-17 AD that while stopping short of permanent conquest, asserted Roman power there for a long, long time; the second installment takes place in AD 20 in Gaul where an ambitious nobleman, a disgruntled magnate and a revenge seeking Spartan attract the younger Gaulish nobility into rebellion. Artorius and his comrades are on the scene and the legions will have something to say about that.
We follow the growth and maturation of Artorius as well as of several friends, most notably Magnus who is of Scandinavian origins, his grandfather becoming citizen of completion of military service, while in the "high politics" interludes, we follow Tiberius in Rome who is portrayed much more nuanced and most likely closer to truth than in the classical historians.
There is an interesting segue of the first two novels - namely Soldier of Rome ends on a superb arena fight between a legionary - not Artorius, his mentor though - and a well known and unbeaten gladiator owned by a bragging Gaulish noble whose boasts about the prowess of his fighter and verbal disparaging of the legionaries were called on and massive sums of money will depend on the result. The second and third installment are even more direct sequels as their titles imply.
Marius' Mules is a bit different than Soldier of Rome in so far the focus of the action is partly on senior officers and partly on enlisted men and junior officers; it is also an indie debut and suffers from lots of typos, anachronisms and some careless editing, but it makes up for that in superb action with enough historical detail to satisfy me, but it is more of an adventure novel in many ways.
This novel follows a Roman career officer who attaches himself to the star of Julius Caesar in Spain cca 62/1 BC and later in Gaul from 58 BC on; despite some misgivings, Caius Valeirus Fronto becomes Caesar's main fighting legate against the Helvetians and later Ariovistus. Dealing more with political and military machinations, the novel has also a lot of "blood and guts" action and it offers a very uncompromising but not unrealistic portrait of Julius Caesar as an opportunistic but talented manipulator with an ability for the organization of conquest and war.
While having a clear ending, Marius' Mules deals only with the first several years of the Gallic conquest and I would love to read the implied sequel(s) and see it becoming a series.
12:02 AM | Posted by Liviu | | Edit Post