by William Dietrich
Reviewed by Coral
Galba Brassidias has served on Hadrian's Wall a long time. He has been patient and, finally, he is to be rewarded with the promotion to tribune he has long wanted. With his new title, it should be him who commands the legion at the Wall, but Roman politics get in the way.
Lucius Marcus Flavius is the son of a rich man, and that is exactly what Valeria's poor senatorial family needs to buy themselves out of debt. So the two are to be wed, with the clout of his father-in-law's family able to secure Marcus any commanding position he wants in the empire to make a name for himself. He chooses the Wall, and Valeria chooses to go with him.
Now Galba knows the only way to get what's rightfully his is to win Valeria over to his side, or to eliminate her and her new husband completely.
This book, for me, has two big pluses. One is a more accurate representation - though I won't say exact - of the Celtic religion than I've read in the past. Celts actually worshipping Celtic gods like Dagda and Morrigan!
The other giant plus is a good villain - and by good, here, I mean competent. Galba's plans are complex, multi-layered, and often come with a few back-up plans, just in case.
One of the books big drawbacks was the lack of anyone to cheer for. It's one thing for all the characters to have flaws, but it would've been nice if at least one were likable. Instead, we get smug, arrogant, sanctimonious idiots.
I liked the style the book was written in, some chapters devoted to Draco, an imperial investigator sent to investigate what's happened, and the majority of chapters unfolding the events so that we can learn what exactly happened that Draco has to investigate. It requires some suspension of disbelief, as there are times that Draco will send away the person he's questioning only to call them back after we've had a chapter to learn some key facts, to ask the more important and meaningful questions.
Also, since there weren't that many Draco chapters over all, I really think the author shouldn't have wasted the time trying to develop his character, and I really could have done without the romance sub-plot in this part of the novel. I think Draco would have worked better the less we knew about him, so we could have wondered exactly what punishment/resolution he would have handed down to the characters we were supposed to care about by this point.
The book's last twenty pages were sort of disappointing. More than once, I've read a story where the author builds up a competent bad guy, only to get near the end and realize that they can't have the bad guy win, so they pull some lame last minute twist to have good triumph in the end.
Some minor picks, again having to do with historical accuracy and stuff.
1 - It's Mark Antony, not Anthony.
2 - Again with the French words that wouldn't have existed yet, as the French language itself wouldn't have existed yet
3 - I somehow doubt wedding ceremonies in ancient Rome were anything like today's ceremonies. I mean, different cultures and all.