The Lost Ten by Harry Sidebottom

The Lost Ten Cover

Publisher: Zaffre (Hardcover – 18 April 2019)

Series: Standalone

Length: 351 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

One of my favourite authors, Harry Sidebottom, returns with another excellent piece of Roman historical fiction, The Lost Ten.

Sidebottom is a particularly skilled historical fiction author who has written some amazing novels in the last 10 years, all of which have focused on the Roman Empire in the turbulent 3rd century AD. His works have included his excellent Warrior of Rome series, which features one of the first books I ever reviewed, King of Kings, and his well-researched Throne of the Caesars series. Sidebottom also wrote a fantastic historical fiction/thriller hybrid last year, The Last Hour, a truly awesome book that featured the protagonist of his Warrior of Rome series. The author has continued his intriguing experiment of combining historical fiction with other thriller sub-genres in his latest book, The Lost Ten, which I have been looking forward to for a while.

Rome, 265 AD. Junior Roman officer Marcus Aelius Valens is instructed to join a small squad of soldiers on a daring raid into Persia. Their objective is to infiltrate the country and make their way to the dreaded Castle of Silence, an impregnable prison high up in the mountains. Once there, they are to free young Prince Sasan, the King of Persia’s disgraced nephew, and bring him back to Rome.

Journeying to the Roman border, Valens joins up with an eclectic group of soldiers recruited from the frumentarii, Rome’s infamous secret agents. An outsider amongst these hard-bitten soldiers, Valens suddenly finds himself in command when an ambush kills their commanding officer. Aware of the consequences of abandoning their mission, Valens leads his troops onwards to Persia.

However, the closer they get to the Castle of Silence, the more misfortune seems to befall the small unit. As his soldiers die one at a time, Valens begins to believe that there is a traitor among them who does not wish for their mission to succeed. Can Valens unmask the saboteur before it is too late, or will the squad die trying to achieve their impossible mission?

This was another spectacular read from Sidebottom, who has once again done a fantastic job bringing modern thriller vibes to an ancient Roman historical setting. The Lost Ten is a fast-paced action adventure, with a clever plot hook and an excellent band of new characters that I had a lot of fun reading and which lived up to my high expectations for this novel.

While his Warrior of Rome books always had a bit of a thriller feel to them, as Ballista was usually hunting down some form of traitor or spy, Sidebottom has recently started to push the envelope even further by combining together Roman historical fiction with a variety of different thriller sub-genres. His previous novel, The Last Hour, was essentially 24 set in ancient Rome, and his next novel is apparently going to emulate a Scandi noir novel in the hills of Calabria. In The Lost Ten, Sidebottom utilises a special forces thriller storyline which sees Roman troops attempt an impossible infiltration deep into enemy territory. As a result, this novel reads a lot like an episode of Seal Team or The Unit if the team had to infiltrate antique Persia. In order to complete their objective, the team has to arrive at the border incognito, set up a cover story as traders, and then pass into Persian territory, fooling the locals and military as they near their goal. Once there, they have to find a way into the impenetrable fortress and then get their hostage out of Persia alive while being pursued by a massive army. This results in an extremely exciting and action-packed novel that was an absolute blast to read. I loved seeing all these classic spy scenarios play out in this classic Persian setting, and the special forces storylines work exceedingly well with the historical fiction background. Sidebottom has really hit onto a winning formula by mashing these genres together, and I am very excited to see how his next book turns out.

One of the aspects of The Lost Ten that I really enjoyed was the great characters who made up the Roman unit heading into Persia. Sidebottom has written a great group of protagonists with some rather interesting character traits and individual stories. The main character, Valens, who serves as the principle point-of-view character, has an intriguing arc that sees him go from being a naïve and disheartened young solider, to canny veteran troop leader throughout the course of the book. The rest of the Ten are a fantastic mixture of distinctive and rough killers who really don’t want to be going along on this mission. These troops help give the story a real Dirty Dozen vibe which I quite enjoyed, and it was also fantastic to see the group come together as they faced adversity.

In addition, it is revealed early on in the book that one of the squad characters is a traitor who is actively working to sabotage the mission. However, the identity of this double agent is not revealed until much later in the story. Instead, several chapters are shown from the perspective of the traitor, showing what actions he is taking to betray the team, such as killing the original commander or organising ambushes from bandits. As more and more misfortunes befall the group, Valens becomes suspicious and starts trying to identify the saboteur in the ranks, resulting in a wonderful storyline that plays into the thriller aspect of the book exceedingly well. Sidebottom does a clever job of hiding the identity of the traitor for the majority of the story, and the reader is fed a series of clues to slowly work out who it is. The reader is also shown the hidden character’s motivations for betraying the others, and the political and personal realities that are driving him. All of this comes to a fantastic conclusion, and this was an excellent part of the story that Sidebottom handles exceedingly well.

Sidebottom once again makes great use of the 3rd century Roman setting that has been a defining feature of all his previous novels. The Lost Ten is set in the same universe as all of Sidebottom’s other books and occurs in the same year as The Last Hour. There are actually several mentions of Sidebottom’s recurring protagonist, Ballista, and it sounds like he is getting into trouble campaigning in Gaul. The author does an amazing job showcasing the rough lands that lie between the Roman Empire and Persia and all the difficulties that would have occurred travelling to the Persian Empire. As the protagonists enter Persia, the readers get an interesting look at the landscape and Persian customs, many of which seem strange to the Romans and result in much contemplation and discussion. Sidebottom shows off several interesting areas of Persia, and it is clear that he has done his research into this location. The author also heads back to the familiar setting of ancient Rome, allowing the reader to get a good sense of the political situation in 265 AD. Sidebottom also examines the role of the frumentarii, Rome’s secret police/agents, who have appeared in several of his novels before. The various actions of this organisation are really intriguing, and it was cool to see modern spy tactics at work in this historical setting. There were some absolutely fascinating historical inclusions in this book that I had a lot of fun reading, and they proved to be an excellent backdrop to The Lost Ten’s thrilling storylines.

The Lost Ten is an outstanding book from Sidebottom that shows why he is one of the most captivating authors of Roman historical fiction in the world today. The author’s decision to combine a contemporary special forces thriller storyline with a well-researched historical setting payed dividends and resulted in a compelling and exciting read.   As a result, this book comes highly recommended and is a must-read for those people looking for an exciting historical thriller. I am looking forward to Sidebottom’s next book and cannot wait to see what he produces next.

Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton

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Publisher: Macmillan

Publication Date – 4 September 2018

 

From one of the modern masters of the space opera comes a rich and ambitious piece of science fiction that that examines an exciting potential future for Earth and the intriguing adventures that could come as a result.

In 2204 AD, humanity has advanced by leaps and bounds and spread out among the stars.  Utilising advanced teleportation technology, next-gen computers and cutting-edge biotech, humanity has created a number of new and varied societies controlled by a handful of powerful corporations.  However, everything is about to change.  Out in the furthest reaches of human expansion, explorers have found a crashed alien craft.  While this is not humanity’s first contact with an alien species, the sinister cargo found onboard the crashed ship reveals a dangerous alien agenda.  Determined to ensure humanity’s survival, the Connexion Corporation assembles a task force to examine the craft and assess the potential threat that it could cause.  Led by Feriton Kayne, the task force is made up of Kandara Martinez, Yuri Alster, Callum Hepburn, Alik Monday and their assistants.  While on paper this group are the perfect people to investigate this potential threat, there is one significant problem: one member of the team is a hostile alien infiltrator.  As the team gets closer to the alien ship, secrets from their past are revealed and the future of the human race hangs in the balance.

Hundreds of years later, Dellian and his team of genetically enhanced soldiers are born and raised on a planet, far away from Earth.  An alien threat has forced humanity into hiding among the stars and pushed them to the edge of extinction.  As the young soldiers grow up, they encounter lessons from the past and discuss the legendary Five Saints who first encountered the invaders.

This is an absolutely spectacular piece of science fiction from bestselling author Peter Hamilton, who has once again created an elaborate and captivating space opera.  Hamilton has written a number of large-scale science fiction novels since his 1993 debut.  He first gained prominence with the Greg Mandel trilogy, which followed the adventures of a psychic detective in a dystopian future.  Hamilton followed this up with his first epic space opera series, The Night’s Dawn trilogy, which focused on souls of the dead coming back and possessing multiple human planets in the far future.  He continued with additional space operas, such as the Commonwealth Saga, the Void Trilogy, The Chronicle of the Fallers and the standalone novel Fallen Dragon, as well as the children’s fantasy series, The Queen of DreamsSalvation is the first book in Hamilton’s brand new trilogy, The Salvation Sequence, with the adventure continuing in the future releases, Salvation Lost and Saints of Salvation.

Salvation is an impressive and compelling read that combines a powerful and well-written story with a brand new, large-scale science fiction universe.  This story is told from of variety of different time periods set throughout Earth’s future.  The central story of this book is set in 2204 AD and features the exploration crew from the Connexion Corporation examining the crashed alien ship.  This storyline is narrated from Feriton Kayne’s point of view and is the only first-person narration in the entire book, except for a short flashback chapter examining Feriton’s infiltration of a different alien spacecraft.  Salvation also features five additional storylines that are set across various time periods.  Four of these storylines are presented as tales from the other four main characters in the 2204 AD timeline, Kandara Martinez, Yuri Alster, Callum Hepburn and Alik Monday.  Each of these flashback narratives is given its own significant chapter; for example the first of these flashback chapters lasts for 140 of the books 526 total pages.  The fifth storyline is set far in the future, and features a different group of characters who are living in the aftermath of these past adventures and is told across several shorter chapters.  The author makes spectacular use of these multiple time periods and combines them together into an excellent overarching narrative.  A significant amount of detail and a huge number of supporting characters are packed into this book, which falls just short of overwhelming the reader but creates the feeling of a massive universe with quite a lot going on.

Each of Salvation’s separate plotlines offers the reader a drastically different story to enjoy, and presents them with several unique adventures in one novel.  The storyline in 2204 AD is an intriguing first contact and exploration story that works incredibly well as the overall narrative that ties all the other storylines together.  The first flashback storyline is set in 2092 AD and features the story of how Callum Hepburn and Yuri Alster gained their antagonism towards each other.  It also shows the earlier days of Connexion and the darker side of their newly formed technology and world influence.  This first story is told from the point of view of Callum, Yuri and Callum’s wife, Savi, and features a thrilling spy tale that also reveals the unique and extreme form of criminal punishment that resulted from the new technology.  The second of these storylines is set in 2167 AD and focuses completely on Yuri as he searches for a missing person taken by the new and shadowy underworld that has taken shape amongst the stars.  This is the first of the flashback storylines to hint that an alien species may have nefarious plans for humanity, and also features some cool examinations of the power and tactics that Yuri and Connexion use.

The third storyline is a complex murder mystery storyline set in 2172 AD that focuses on the secretive FBI agent Alik Monday and presents another fantastic mystery with some unique science fiction elements.  The fourth storyline is set in 2194 AD and follows badass mercenary Kandara Martinez as she investigates corporate sabotage on the Utopial home planet.  This is a high-action thriller storyline that also examines the Utopials, a human society seeking to create a cultural utopia, while also going into genetic surgery in a big way.  The highlight of this storyline has to be the intense fight between Kandara and the mercenary Cancer, who had been a shadowy figure in some of the previous storylines.  The final prequel story follows the 2204 AD timeline narrator, Feriton Kayne, in 2199 as he infiltrates the large spaceship belonging to the Olyix, an alien race that humanity came in contact with some years before.  This is one of the shortest stories, but it contains the most detailed examination of the Olyix, who have appeared in several of the previous stories.

In addition to the stories set in and before 2204 AD there are also several chapters are set in the far future of humanity.  This timeline starts in 583 AA (After Arrival) and features the remnants of humanity as they prepare to fight back against the alien menace that pushed them away from Earth.  This is a rather intriguing storyline that examines children being turned into tight-knit teams of soldiers as they prepare for the war to come while also providing some hints about the events of the main storyline.  Each of the above stories are fairly self-contained and do an amazing job of showing off the sheer complexity of Hamilton’s new universe, while at the same time providing a series of unique and captivating tales across time.

Each of the prequel timelines has a storyline that could be considered either a murder mystery or thriller.  By themselves, each of these storylines is very well written and contains compelling mysteries and action packed sequences that are more than enough to keep the readers hooked to the book.  However, the real highlight of these prequel timelines is the way in which the play into Salvation’s larger mystery that is explored within the 2204 AD storyline, namely the identity of the alien race attacking humanity and which of the members of the research team is an infiltrator.  I really loved the way that these prequel stories hinted at the main mystery while also exploring the history of the main characters in an attempt to show their personality or a critical point in their lives.  The final twists in the 2204 AD storyline are very surprising and serve as a fantastic payoff for Salvation’s overall narrative.

The author has also included a significant amount of science fiction elements throughout the book that are presented in considerable detail.  It is fascinating to see Hamilton postulate how Earth may develop in the near future and the advanced technology that they would start to utilise.  The multiple timelines also come into play for this element of the book as they allow the reader to see the progression of technology over the years.  What is most interesting about this is that the main pieces of technology don’t change; instead the next generations of the same device are revealed throughout the book’s various stories before the technology eventually plateaus at its highest level.  The science fiction elements also come into play in several intriguing ways.  For example, they allow for some very creative mysteries, including a murder in a house containing teleportation gates that result in the victims being spread across multiple locations, including New York, the Moon, Mars and the Antarctic, creating a murder investigation with several unique complications.  The advent of space travel and other technology also allows the creation of some inventive new societies.  From futuristic utopias to desolate prison it is absolutely fascinating to watch these societies come together.  Overall the science fiction elements are a fantastic part of this book and add some intriguing elements to all of the book’s interconnected stories.

Peter Hamilton has produced another elaborate and powerful piece of science fiction space opera in Salvation.  With a new and unique universe that contains some fantastic and detailed new elements and multiple timelines that are combined together into an outstanding novel, this is an absolutely amazing read.  Epic science fiction at it’s very best, Salvation comes highly recommended and is a spectacular start to an exceptional new series.

My Rating:

Five Stars