This is the fourteenth book in the series written by Simon Scarrow concerning events in the Roman Empire, the majority of which are based on what happened in Great Britain (Britannia). Loosely based on fact, the books more or less follow the fortunes of Prefect Cato and Centurion Macro.
- Simon Scarrow
This time the pair are stationed at a fort somewhere in the northern part of what is now Wales but was then the frontier area of what is essentially a new province. Cato has under his command Macro’s cohort of legionaries and his own part-mounted auxiliary cohort which are now serving as infantry because there are not enough remounts to supply the whole Roman army at present.
While out on patrol they find a fort which is obviously a gathering point for native Deceanglian warriors and are aware this information must be passed on further up their own chain of command. However, before they return to the fort Macro manages to get an arrow in his leg from one of the younger natives which means he is incapacitated for a few weeks. Cato makes his report to the legate Quintatus who has received similar information from other forts. At this point the plot thickens because Quintatus has political ambitions which he could exploit due to the fact that there is no governor of Britannia, the previous having died and no replacement had arrived yet. Quintatus is aware he could make a good impression on both the new governor and Rome opening the way to a far more powerful and lucrative position. He therefore decides to mount an attack on the followers of the Druids by destroying all the Druids on the Isle of Mona (Anglesey) which was the spiritual home of Druidism. Thus he means to subdue the main hill tribes who are causing so much trouble and preventing the continuing expansion of the Roman Empire. This, of course, would lead to him accepting the honours he desired.
Cato is blackmailed in such a way that he and his men are to provide the leading unit to head the attack through the mountains before the landing on Mona and then spearhead the campaign on the island. Meanwhile Cato, who is back at the fort supposedly convalescing, has uncovered some disturbing information and sets out with a party of troops to overtake the main column and make his report to the legate.
Unfortunately, things do not go entirely to plan and both the action and its aftermath are described in some detail, more about which would tend to spoil the story. For those who have followed this series it is obviously another story about the lives of Cato and Macro, though the book will stand on its own for those who have never read any of the previous ones.
Easy to read and not too long, there are no plots within plots, flashbacks or other diversions to make it difficult to take in, and to give some idea of the terrain encountered there are hand drawn maps which may be referred to.
Considering the era in which the story took place it is rather disconcerting to come across military terms, conversation and language given in the modern manner, something which detracts from the authenticity of a reasonable story.