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Invictus – Eagles of the Empire

Simon Scarrow
I asked to review this book as I have enjoyed several of Mr. Scarrow’s tales of life in the Roman Army . Fitting squarely into the ‘Swords and Sandals’ category you know what you are going to get, but I think Mr. Scarrow is the best author in this genre. His research into the life of the average soldier, his equipment, weapons, ways of fighting and the discipline to which he was subjected is as thorough as Bernard Cornwell’s, which is high praise from this fussy reader.

This particular book brings the two main protagonists, Cato and Macro, to Spain. Known as Hispania in Roman times and occupied but not necessarily pacified by the Romans at the time of the story. Set against the usual backdrop of politics, plottings and positioning by those in Imperial Rome, past events and old enemies contribute to the way our boys end up in Hispania and the mission they are given on arrival. Despite the book being part of a series, it would be possible to read it in isolation as enough explanation is given, without bogging the story down in repetition of previous events. This book includes the start of a new story thread related to the birth and rearing of Cato’s son, which I am sure will continue into future books, along with the reasons for Cato’s wife’s strange behaviour.

However, the action starts very soon, with a description of the sea voyage to Spain from Italy. Not an aspect of Roman Army life I had considered much before, and certainly not something the troops anticipated eagerly! In Mr. Scarrow’s usual style the soldiers’ action is fast-paced and full of interesting descriptions of face-to-face combat, marching and living in the field, finding provisions for an army on the move and defending a position against an overwhelming force. For reasons that become clear later in the book, our heroes are commanding a cohort of the Praetorian Guard. In an interesting parallel to today’s British Army, the Praetorian Guard, whose main task was looking after the Emperor, are seen by the rest of the Army as unfit, training-school only, ornamental and processional soldiers, rather like the Brigade of Guards. Macro, the career Warrant Officer, has some work to do to turn them into a serious fighting unit.

With some valuable insights into the way Roman Occupation worked, the lives of slaves and the political machinations going on in Emperor Claudius’ Rome at the time, the book balances information with a fast-paced and exciting story line and reaches its end leaving the reader hoping that the next one will be ready soon.

Four mushroom heads – a most enjoyable and informative read.

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