The River Rhine, AD184 – Rome’s bloody frontier with the German tribes, and the story begins in a truly bloodthirsty manner. Amalric is to be inaugurated as the King of the Bructeri, a tribe whose enmity to Rome is without parallel. A Roman soldier is dragged to the altar of Wotanaz, where he is dismembered as the tribe swear a blood oath of loyalty to their new king.
Meanwhile in Rome, the Emperor Commodus decides to rape and murder a doctor called Felicia, simply because he can. And the Imperial Secretary, Cleander, a freedman, has decided to solve a number of problems – not least being the Bructeri – by sending Tribune Scaurus with a small party of men to raid Bructeri territory and to kidnap their seeress Gerhild. What follows is a tale of derring-do swashbuckling that would make John Buchan envious. It is the kind of story that Kipling wrote about the Great Game played on the Northwest Frontier. It has all the ingredients that you would look for in a book of this kind: bloodshed, treachery, revenge, murder and mayhem.
It is also the 9th book in a series that began with “Wounds of Honour” and people who have read the series will find many of their favourite characters are back, and that there are references to events that have happened in the earlier books. This however does not matter because this is a tale that stands on its own two feet.
Some of the tale is historical fact. The Romans lost three legions in the Battle of the Teutoberger Forest in the reign of the Emperor Augustus. One of the tribes involved in that defeat was the Bructeri. When the Batavi, under Civilis, rose in rebellion against Rome in AD69, the Bructeri came to their aid, following a prophecy by their seeress Veleda, and another terrible defeat was inflicted on the Roman army. Then the Emperor Vespasian turned his armies loose, and defeated his German enemies. The Romans then encouraged neighbouring tribes, especially the Angrivarii, to attack the Bructeri and to drive them from their ancestral lands. This is why the Bructeri had such a deepseated hatred of the Romans.
This, and the fact that Marcus hates the Emperor Commodus for the rape and murder of his wife Felicia, is all that you need to know to understand what is happening. Riches, as a good author, makes sure that you learn these facts in the most entertaining way possible.
If you do not like historical fiction, this is not the book for you. If you object to general mayhem this is not the book for you. But if you like a good swashbuckling romp, look no further.