Friday, April 8, 2016

What I'm Reading: The Eagle Series by Simon Scarrow

Sorry for the lack of posts. Real life sometimes intrudes and not in a good way. But fortunately I have had some time to read and I found a new author.

I've just read the first two books in this series:Under the Eagle (2000) and The Eagle's Conquest (2001). (And I've requested the next several from my library.) Both are quite good. The setting is the Roman Empire in the mid 1st Century (43 AD) in the reign of Claudius. Like many historical series like O'Brien's Aubrey/Maturin sea novels and Cornwell's Sharpe series with Sharpe and Sgt. Harper, we have two main characters.

Lucius Cornelius Macro, a veteran with 16 years service who has recently been appointed to the Centurionate. He is the epitome of a good soldier: dependable in a fight and follows the orders given to him by his senior officers. He is the centurion of the Sixth Century, of the Fourth Cohort, of the Second Augustan Legion under the command of the historical figure Vespasian.

Quintus Licinius Cato, the son of an Imperial Freedman (former slave) in direct service of Emperor Claudius. Being born a slave himself, and the property of the state, he was given an opportunity by the Emperor as a favour to Cato's late father to enlist in the legions and be given his freedom. Cato has lived a relatively luxurious life as a slave within the Imperial palace, in comparison to the rank and file of the legions, and after accepting the Emperor's offer. he joins the Second Augustan as Macro's Optio (more or less the second in command). Cato is only 17 years old in the first novel, and has a lot to learn about the legion. Which provides an excuse for some handy exposition by the more experienced soldiers.  

Simon Scarrow, the author, is British and a Roman Historian and the period accuracy shows. He also does a good job with realistic battles using actual period tactics. The first two novels provide a nice mix of small unit action with various detached duties and larger battles that are cohort, multi-cohort, legion, and multi-legion in size. The novels also add good period intrigue that involves historical characters as well as the main characters, Scarrow does a nice job keeping his villains available to bedevil the protagonist without getting too ridiculous or melodramatic. And the mystery of whose side the various other characters are really on - and who is really plotting against the Emperor - is well designed and engaging. 

So if the Roman Empire is interesting and you want a mix of military historical fiction with plotting, spying, and politicking, this series is for you. It is similar to O'Brien and Cornwell's fiction and has the same sort of realistic military encounters, but I think the intrigue is even better done.

I give it 4 out of 4 stars.

30-04-2016 EDIT: I just finished the eighth book in the series, Centurion, and this series continues to be excellent and well worth a read.

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