Set in 317 AD on the Germanic frontier, this novel is a continuation of the career of Aurelius Castus who has found himself a promoted to Dux Limitis Germaniae or Commander of the Roman armies on the Rhine frontier, much to his surprise and not really what he was expecting. His predecessor has been killed while paying a bounty to barbarians for not invading and raiding Roman territory. Castus also has to escort in the Emperor Constantine’s young son and heir who is being sent to the frontier to rule it and to ‘earn his spurs’, an added responsibility that Castus could have done without.
- Ian Ross
Arriving on the frontier Castus finds the Roman authorities are really under the thrall of a local businessman and landowner who calls the shots. While it is forbidden for locals to have any armed guards this landowner has his own army! Castus is equal in rank to the local Consularis Germania Secunda or Governor who deals with civil affairs while Castus deals with military issues. Through this he is drawn into the political intrigue much to his disgust and determines to command the armies totally free of these influences; a somewhat pie-in-the-sky ideal.
Castus negotiates with the Barbarians from across the Rhine and takes hostages to ensure their good behaviour, promising that these hostages would be safe – a promise that he should not have given as the landowner, through the Roman Governor, has other ideas.
The story takes Castus down what is now known as the River Waal to find and fight pirates who have taken the supply ships coming from Britain. The descriptions of the sea and land battles are excellent and the tactics used are easily followed. Beating the pirates is not the only concern as Castus now finds that the actions by the Governor, under instruction from the landowner, has caused an uprising of all the tribes and he is cut off from his HQ by this.
The latter part of the book is about his return, via the North Sea and the Rhine to his HQ, taking on the Barbarians, making pacts with some to fight with the Romans and overcoming the others through good solid Roman legionary defence. Again, the description of the battles is excellent and easy to follow. Coupled with the story of his time as military commander, Castus also has his son with him following the death of his wife, who is taken hostage by the local landowner who in turn is hoping that he can use Castus’s son as a bargaining chip. There is also a love interest for Castus from a previous book in the series.
Overall a good read, easy to follow and such that one wants to know the outcome of the next predicament that Castus gets into. Having said that, when I was reading this close to the beginning I felt that there was something about it that was familiar. Then it struck me; this book is like the westerns of my youth. A robber cattleman trying to drive the Indians off his land, a crooked sheriff in the cattle baron’s pocket and the US Marshal, with the aid of the US Cavalry riding to the rescue. Don’t let this put you off a fine read, but it goes to show that a format in one era is easily transferred to another
3.5 for a well written and researched novel.