Publisher: Headline (Trade Paperback – 15 November 2022)
Series: Eagles of the Empire – Book 21
Length: 466 pages
My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars
One of the world’s best historical fiction authors, Simon Scarrow, returns with another epic instalment in his brilliant long-running Eagles of the Empire Roman history series, Death to the Emperor.
I have made no secret of my deep appreciation for the works of Simon Scarrow, who is easily one of my favourite historical fiction authors. A talented and compelling author, Scarrow has written several great series and standalone reads that cover historical subjects such as the Napolenic wars, World War II and even a cool historical crime fiction novel, Blackout. However, his most substantial body of work is his Eagles of the Empire series, which is one of the best historical fiction series I have had the pleasure of reading. Set during the reigns of some of Rome’s most infamous emperors, Eagles of the Emperor follow two Roman soldiers, Prefect Cato and Centurion Marco, who have fought on multiple battlefields across the empire. I have had a wonderful time reading this series over the years, and it features some outstanding books, including the last four novels, The Blood of Rome, Traitors of Rome, The Emperor’s Exile and The Honour of Rome. Naturally I started reading the latest book in the series (the 21st book overall), Death to the Emperor, pretty much as soon as I got it, and boy did that prove to be a smart decision.
60 AD, Britannia. After years fighting side by side together, Prefect Cato and Centurion Marco are back in Britannia, the land they helped conquer at the start of their partnership. Since their first time there, their lives have been transformed in ways they could have never believed. While Marco is retired, serving a senior administrative role amongst the other retired veterans in Britannia, Cato is hiding out on the island, attempting to avoid Nero’s wrath for rescuing the Emperor’s former mistress from exile. Determined to make their new lives in Britannia work, Cato and Marco are once again thrust into danger as tensions escalate throughout the island.
While the usual malcontents and druids stir rebellion and conflict against the Romans, tensions are higher than ever, especially as rumours spread that Emperor Nero wishes to pull out of the savage province. However, Nero is also determined to squeeze the island for every bit of wealth it has, and he dispatches a ruthless and dangerous procurator to do this. Worried that this move may destabilise an already fragile Britannia, Cato and Marco attempt to help their ally, the recently widowed queen of the Iceni, Boudica, whose tribe has caught the eye of the Emperor and his Procurator.
However, soon duty separates the two old friends again, as Cato is conscripted by Britannia’s ambitious governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, in his latest campaign to destroy the druid stronghold at Mona. Left alone, Marco can only watch as outrage and disrespect brings the Iceni to the brink of war with Rome, one that he and his forces cannot possibly defeat. Soon, the fate of Britannia lays in hands of one woman, Boudica, who can bring peace to the lands. However, when Boudica is pushed too far, will she declare war on Rome, its Emperor, and her old friends Cato and Marco?
Death to the Emperor was an outstanding and fantastic read that once again highlights Scarrow’s impressive ability as a historical fiction writer. Continuing the long-running story of Cato and Marco, Scarrow expertly dives into a major historical event and brings it to life in a compelling way. I had a wonderful time reading Death to the Emperor and I felt that it was one of Scarrow’s better novels in recent years.
I loved the incredible story that Scarrow wove around Death to the Emperor, especially as it provides the reader with an excellent blend of action, adventure, character development and a ton of historical detail. Set shortly after the events of the last book, The Honour of Rome, Scarrow continues several threads from there, with Cato and Marco attempting to settle down in their old stomping ground of Britannia and find some peace. However, the death of Boudica’s husband soon leads to chaos as the disgruntled locals start to push back against the increasing control and greed of Rome. After a good introduction, which sets much of the scene for the rest of the book, the protagonists are split up, with Cato forced to accompany Governor Paulinus on his campaign to eradicate the druids, while Marco remains behind to attempt to keep the peace. This results in a great split of storylines, and both of their exciting character arcs really paid off. Cato’s story arc is a pretty typical Scarrow narrative, as Cato takes control of a new regiment and leads them into several battles as part of his campaign. This results in several impressive action sequences, including a great and highly exciting extended siege sequence at the druid stronghold of Mona, which was one of the best battle scenes in the entire book. At the same time, Marco bears witness to all the key events that lead up to Boudica’s rebellion, as the villainous Catus Decianus antagonises the tribes, despite Marco’s best efforts to stop him. Marco’s storyline is a lot more intense and emotionally rich as the protagonist attempts to save all his friends against heavy odds. However, despite his best efforts, Marco and his fellow veterans find themselves forced to fight Boudica’s army, which results in a pretty memorable ending.
I deeply enjoyed how this compelling narrative came together, and Scarrow was on excellent form as he provided the reader with everything they needed. While the start of the book is a little slower, it sets the scene perfectly, before all the action and deadly developments ensue at a faster and more intense pace. The author really built up the tension throughout the narrative, and you really knew that everything was going to go wrong, and boy did it. The resulting battles, which includes several very fun sieges, were well worth the wait, and Scarrow did a wonderful job of showcasing all the carnage of these fights. Separating the main characters created a much more complex and wider narrative, and I liked the excellent contrasts between the battles, as Cato’s successes with his forces are mirrored by Marco’s desperate fights with the small band of retired fighters under his command. The intensity of the plot got even more pronounced as the narrative continued, and the reader really gets drawn in as a result. I personally powered through the second half of the book in very short order as I wanted to see how everything would unfold. The desperate and bloody conclusion to the narrative was pretty shocking, especially as there are some major series moments featured here. The resulting cliff hanger finisher was just perfect, and you are left wanting more. I am not entirely sure I’ll be able to wait a whole year to see how this series continues, but I am sure that the reader is for even more excitement and shocks when Scarrow brings out his next book.
One of things that really impressed me about Death to the Emperor was the level of historical detail that Scarrow put into it as he covers some of the early events of Boudica’s uprising. The author does a remarkable job showcasing all the events that lead up to the rebellion, and he paints a compelling and unique picture around it. Many events are discussed or shown in intriguing detail, including the general oppression of the local tribes, the attempts to embezzle money from the Iceni, the capture and humiliation of Boudica, and the disregard that Nero had for Britannia and his rumoured plans to abandon the province. All these events, eventually lead up to the rebellion and it was fascinating to see them come about, especially through the eyes of a common soldier character like Marco. The subsequent early battles of this rebellion, including the fight at Camulodunum, are very dark and brutal, and I deeply appreciated how Scarrow put his protagonists in the centre of these bloody conflicts, as they really raise up the intensity of the narrative. At the same time, Scarrow also spends a good part of the book highlighting Governor Paulinus’s invasion of the druid stronghold of Mona. This compelling campaign is often overshadowed by Boudica in history books, but it was an important part of the events at that time, especially as it left the rest of the province undermanned. Scarrow covers this campaign extremely well through the book, especially as Cato is the officer usually at the front of the fighting, and it became quite a key part of the book. I loved seeing this blend of historical events throughout Death to the Emperor, especially as Scarrow brings his usual flair for showcasing the Roman war machine throughout this book, highlighting the strategies and martial techniques of the Romans in exquisite detail. I can’t wait to see the rest of Boudica’s rebellion in the next Eagles of the Empire book, as it is going to be epic.
Scarrow does another awesome job with the characters in Death to the Emperor, as he tells some intriguing character arcs that really helped to shape the narrative. The primary focus as always is one of the series’ main protagonists, Prefect Cato and Centurion Marco. Both have some intriguing character moments in this book which I had a great time with here. Cato’s arc is pretty typical for much of the series, with the prefect forced back into combat, this time leading an auxiliary cohort on the campaign to Mona. Cato’s arc is filled with a huge amount of action and intense battles as he fights from one end of Britain and back again. It is always fun to see Cato in action, especially as he takes his units into some bloody battles, using a range of unique tactics to win. While Cato is fun, the most intense character moments is focused on Macro, who remains behind and watches over the province while the army is gone. Marco, who is mostly retired at this point, finds himself in a unique leadership position, and must work his force of reservists into a coherent force. At the same time, he also finds himself greatly conflicted as he finds his loyalty to Rome tested due to his friendship with Boudica. Forced to take military action against them, Marco tries to protect Boudica and her family, however, his orders and his slimy commander make that impossible, and he must decide whether he should continue to blindly follow Rome or do what is right. His decision will have huge impacts on the story, and it places him in some dark situations.
Aside from Cato and Marco, who tend to be the primary point-of-view characters, Death to the Emperor has an awesome cast of supporting characters who really add a lot to the overall narrative. This includes Boudica, who serves as Rome’s main antagonist in this arc of the series. Boudica has actually been a friendly supporting character for many of her previous appearances, having formed a relationship with the two protagonists. However, this book sees all that change as she is pushed too far, becoming the warrior queen we all know. Scarrow handled her transformation from friend to deadly enemy extremely well, and it was fascinating to see her interact with Marco, especially as he keeps trying, but failing, to help her. Aside from Boudica, I also liked seeing more of the fun supporting character, Apollonius. Apollonius has been an interesting figure for the last few books, serving as Cato’s spy and advisor, and generally being a good secondary protagonist. He has a very interesting time in Death to the Emperor as he remains behind to help Marco. I loved seeing the continued relationship between the two, as Marco generally disapproves of Apollonius, and it was also quite intriguing to get some insights into why Apollonius chooses to stay and help Cato. The final character I need to point out is Catus Decianus, the Roman Procurator who is generally considered responsible for Boudica’s rebellion. Scarrow does an amazing job with Decianus, a real historical figure, and he turns him into a very despicable villain in Death to the Emperor. The author paints him as an arrogant, greedy fellow, whose arrogance and general dislike of the Britannia locals, leads to the resulting war. You really cannot help but hate Decianus, especially as he really is the main villain of this story. These great characters, and more, turn out to be an amazing cast, and I had a wonderful time seeing the outstanding and dramatic narrative Scarrow wove around them.
Simon Scarrow continues to showcase why he is one of the best historical fiction authors in the world with the latest entry in his exceptional Eagles of the Empire series, Death to the Emperor. Expertly showcasing the brutal events of Boudica’s rebellion with his long-running protagonists right in the middle, Scarrow tells a powerful and action-packed story that takes his characters into some dark direction. Captivating, exciting and oh so bloody, Death to the Emperor will keep you relentlessly entertained and ensure you come back for more books in this epic series. Highly recommended!