Publication Date – 13 November 2018
One of the best and most prolific writers of Roman historical fiction, Simon Scarrow, returns with another outstanding adventure of his two Roman protagonists, Cato and Marco.
In AD 55, Nero has recently ascended to the throne, and the Roman Empire prepares itself for war with its great rival, the Parthian Empire, which sits to the east of Rome’s territories. This recent conflict is centred on the neutral border kingdom of Armenia, which sits between the two great empires. Years earlier, the brash Iberian prince Rhadamistus conquered Armenia and declared himself king, ruling as a terrible tyrant. In response, a recent Parthian backed invasion routed Rhadamistus from Armenia and placed a Parthian prince on the throne. Unwilling to let this strategic territory fall into Parthian hands, Rome sends its greatest general, Corbulo, to the east to reclaim Armenia for Rhadamistus and meet any subsequent hostilities from the Parthians.
The recently promoted Tribune Cato and his long-time companion, Centurion Marco, desperate to escape the deadly politics of Rome, lead the escort for General Corbulo. When an early opportunity to take Armenia with minimal interference from the Parthians presents itself, the only forces that Corbulo can rely on are Cato and Marco’s elite cohort of Praetorian Guards. Placed in command of an advance force, Cato must lead a mixed column of Romans and King Rhadamistus’s troops through unknown and hostile terrain towards Armenia’s capital. Forced to balance his orders against the desires of the unstable Rhadamistus, Cato struggles to maintain the strength of himself and his men. With traitors and enemies all around them, can Cato and Marco succeed, or will they find themselves killed in a strange land?
Scarrow is one of the leading authors of the historical fiction genre, whose work over the last 18 years is comparable to such established authors of the genre as Bernard Cornwell, Ben Kane or Conn Iggulden. The Eagles of the Empire series, which started in 2000 with Scarrow’s debut, Under the Eagle, is the author’s most distinctive work, and features some superb description of Roman military action. In addition to his main series, Scarrow has also written several other great pieces of historical fiction. He co-wrote the Roman Arena and Invader novella series with T. J. Andrews, which are set in the same universe as the Eagles of the Empire series. He also wrote the epic Wellington and Napoleon Quartet, also known as the Revolution Quartet, which provided an impressive examination of the opposing lives of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington. In addition to his series work, Scarrow has also written two standalone novels, The Sword and the Scimitar, which covers the siege of Malta, and Hearts of Stone, a dramatic novel set in Greece during World War II. All of Scarrow’s novels are amazing pieces of historical fiction, and are really worth checking out if you are a fan of the genre.
The Blood of Rome is the 17th book in The Eagles of the Empire series, and follows the two protagonists’ return to Rome’s Eastern provinces for the first time since the eighth book in the series, Centurion. I have always been a massive fan of this series and consider it to be one of the best pieces of Roman military fiction series on the market today. After reading all of the previous books in The Eagles of the Empire series, I was particularly keen to get a copy of The Blood of Rome and eager to see where the protagonist’s latest adventure would take them. After powering through it in a day, the result was pretty much what I expected: I loved Scarrow’s latest literary offering. This latest book contains another fantastic historical fiction story, as the protagonists embark on an exciting campaign into an interesting new historical setting and it was great to see how the characters continue to evolve and progress in their lives.
Scarrow’s The Eagles of the Empire series has always boasted some incredible depictions of ancient Roman military combat, with most books containing several battles of varying size used to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the Roman tactics and techniques. This is continued in the Blood of Rome, with several battles featured throughout the book. While most of these battles are small and quick skirmishes that differ from the traditional Roman battle sequences, the Roman soldier’s tactics and training and the effectiveness of their equipment are on full display, creating some amazing scenes. In addition to the classic Roman legionnaires, which make up the bulk of Cato and Marco’s forces, Scarrow also focuses on the more unusual forces that the Roman’s used in combat, in the form of a cohort of auxiliary slingers, as well as a detachment of Roman siege equipment. Both of these distinctive units get a good showing throughout the book, and both are fascinating to see in action. The author also contains an interesting portrayal of Roman soldiers fighting side-by-side with allied troops, and it is intriguing to see the issues and advantages involved with such allies. Overall, The Blood of Rome is another excellent example of Scarrow’s skill at portraying Roman military action sequences, and is one of the best parts of this book.
This book is also set in an extremely fascinating historical period and focuses on the rivalry between Rome and Parthia. The continuous conflict between Rome and Parthia has always been a great literary background for many pieces of Roman historical fiction, and Scarrow has already examined it in some of his earlier books. The conflict within The Blood of Rome continues to explore this legendary rivalry, and is an opening book in what appears to be a sequence of novels that will focus on an expanded war between the two rival nations. This first book in this sequence looks at a rather minor opening conflict, played out as a proxy war within Armenia, but it contains a great examination of the politics at the time and the differences in battle style and tactics of the two nation’s militaries. I really enjoyed the examination of the role of border kingdoms and provinces, such as Armenia, stuck in the middle of these two proud and ambitious empires. The main story of The Blood of Rome, the invasion of Armenia and Rhadamistus’s attempts to claim the throne, are real pieces of history, and it was really interesting to see them utilised in this story. All of the historical background for this book is incredibly fascinating and I had a great time reading about an amazing period of history.
The character of Rhadamistus was another intriguing addition to the book that added a whole new element to story. Rhadamistus is a well-known historical tyrant and brutal man of ambition, and Scarrow did a good job showcasing the character’s casual cruelty and arrogance. He was a pretty despicable character as a result, and watching the protagonists attempt to placate and counter his more ruthless actions added some dramatic twists to the story. Scarrow examines certain parts of Rhadamistus’s life, and it was very fascinating to see his eventual fate and the role his reign as king had on the rival empires of Rome and Parthia.
I really liked Scarrow’s depiction of one of his main characters, Cato, throughout this novel. Cato has never had an easy life, having been forced into the army at an early age, but the events of the last few books have been particularly hard on him. As a result, certain incidents within The Blood of Rome finally push him over the edge, and it was a refreshing change of pace to see one of these usually indomitable characters show some real vulnerability. This was a very realistic inclusion, and I thought it added some much-needed character growth to Cato. It also served an essential story element, as his condition resulted in Cato being open to Rhadamistus’s manipulation. This was a great part of The Blood of Rome that represents some intriguing adaptation within this long-running series.
Simon Scarrow once again produces an epic piece of historical fiction as he continues his outstanding The Eagles of the Empire series. His long-running protagonists, Cato and Marco, are once again thrust into a fantastic historical military fiction adventure, and there are a ton of great elements for the readers to enjoy. Another amazing outing from Scarrow, this is a highly recommended read for all fans of the historical fiction genre, as the author continues to produce some of the best Roman military fiction in the business.