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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"Ironroot" by SJA Turney (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Official SJA Turney Website
Order Ironroot HERE
Read First 3 Chapters from Ironroot
Read FBC Capsule Review of Marius Mules
Read FBC Review of Interregnum

INTRODUCTION: Last year I discovered by chance Interregnum the first fantasy novel of the author. On reading an excerpt from it, I was hooked on the spot and got it and read it almost immediately. When Mr. Turney kindly contacted me about Ironroot - his new novel set in the milieu of Interregnum 20 years later and another standalone with mostly different characters - I wanted to read it immediately too and I put aside anything else I was reading at the time.

I started Ironoot with very high expectations and from the first pages linked above I got hooked on it and I could not put it down before I finished it. In the review below there are some inevitable spoilers for Interregnum, so be warned!

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "Ironroot" stands at about 300 pages divided into 16 numbered chapters and an epilogue some decades later. There is a map of the action zone in the beginning. The narration in the main story is third person, but there are three first person interludes that are both the heart of the novel and the place where the fantastic enters it.

While Interregnum was easy to classify as "pure" military fantasy, Ironroot is more of an adventure in a military fantasy milieu based on Imperial Rome, though it is personal, introspective and quite emotional too.

ANALYSIS: Ironroot has three main characters. Varro is an early 40's cohort captain of the Northern Army - the equivalent of a colonel in today's army - who was in his early 20's and a 5 year veteran at the end of Interregnum. A seasoned veteran with a trusted cadre of subordinates, most notably his second in command and comrade in arms since enlistment Corda and his cohort chief physician Scortius, Varro is the embodiment of a military man.

While Varro has attracted the intimate attention
of Catilina, the young and headstrong daughter of Marshal Sabian - the commander of the Northern Army and the 2nd most powerful man in the state after the emperor - the marshal has different plans for his daughter since in Varro he recognizes himself and he does not want her to live with the constant threat of early widowhood. So Sabian prefers Varro's commander, General Cristus who has a reputation of a lucky but winning soldier and who is ready to leave the army and move into Imperial politics at the highest levels, while being happy to promote Varro and leave him on the frontier to lead the local army.

Salonius is a 19 year old engineer auxiliary in Varro's cohort from a pacified branch of the Northern Tribes and whose path intersects Varro's by the power of the (barbarian) forest Stag God Cernus; soon he will become Varro's only trusted aide.

When Varro meets Cernus the night before a supposedly easy battle against some tribesmen, he believes the god has selected him for a mission, so he is confident he will survive the battle the next day and gets careless and wounded pretty seriously in an otherwise rout of the enemy. When he finds out further facts that indicate treachery and conspiracy, Varro is on his own with the clock ticking and with only Salonius and later Catilina to help.

Ironroot is a very personal and even emotional novel with great characters that will stay with you for a long time. There are battles, personal combat and generally lots of action but the emphasis is on the character arcs of the heroes. The story moves at a fast clip and there are quite a few twists and turns, but the plot turns around the Stag God Cernus' involvement in the lives of Varro, Salonius and Catilina that sends them on unexpected paths of danger, intrigue and revenge.

Utterly impressive, Ironroot (A+, some minor typos/editing slips that become noticeable especially towards the end keep it from a well deserved A++ from me) is a major step-up for the author. Here Mr. Turney tightens his prose noticeably and manages the impressive feat of giving us a very personal, character oriented story within a military/adventure context but without sacrificing the pace or the action content; the world building remains top notch with the same attention to detail and military realism based on Roman history that we are familiar with from Interregnum.

2 comments:

Sarah said...

I've never heard of this book but your review of it is wonderful and makes me want to check it out sometime fairly soon.

Julie said...

I have been a follower of SJA Turney. This latest book, Ironroot, is a really fine work. From the opening with Cernus and then the battle with barbarians, I was hooked. I hated to put it down! I loved the characters and his detailed descriptions. I felt as though I was on the mission, too. What twists it takes! And such a powerful ending! I didn't see that coming. I was left drained. And knowing the outcome, I'm reading it again! Jules

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