The author of Marius's Mules has made a number of key decisions in planning what will (hopefully) be a long series of historical novels. Firstly, he has selected a model, in this case the professional officers of the Roman Army behave not unlike professional officers of the British Army - the enemy being of less importance much of the time than internal loyalties and rivalries. This worked very well indeed in the novel "Imperial Governor" by George Shipway and S.J.A Turney uses it to advantage here. This model gives us men who, while living in an alien world, address it much as we would. Secondly, he has decided to proceed (as armies proceed) slowly. This novel only takes us up to the defeat of Ariovistus. It will take a number of novels to complete De Bello Gallico. This means characters and their actions are not hurried along but develop at their own pace. The result will be immensely pleasing to a lot of readers, especially those who do their homework on the subject.
I could not quite stretch to five stars (though 4.5 is what I wanted) because I found the characters suffered to a degree from Richard Sharpe Syndrome, they were often either all Good or all Bad. The hatchet job on P. Licinius Crassus is excellent for plot (a rich useless aristo just like Sir Henry Simmerson) but not, I think, for history. The sketch of C. Julius Caesar was much more complex however, he is clearly a leader of men, and a bit of a rotter in the eyes of our hero, the stern M. Falerius Fronto.
However, who knows what lies ahead for I see we are off to fight the fearsome Belgae in the next volume.
on 19 August 2011
I enjoyed this story for much of the time, but a few of the elements were worryingly grating: in both this and his second story, the plot elements are very similar: hero fights against over-whelming odds, gets injured, best friends are killed, Roman discipline, technology and tactical superiority save the day, hero gets drunk with mates and argues with Caesar who puts up with it.
But worst of all, the man who edits the story has not done a very good job. There were cases when the sentences did not make sense, where words were spelled incorrectly [ e.g. keep soldiers on a tight `reign' rather than `rein'] and some of the sentences were poorly constructed with repetition of words within them. A good editor should have spotted all these flaws.
I am no English teacher, but this is something I have rarely seen in published works, and would prefer not to.
When I was asked to look up this title I have to say I was unsure!
Its not main stream publication, its got little or not marketing behind it...etc. etc...
But im a sucker for a roman historical fiction book, and the tag line:
"It is perhaps time we looked at Caesar more as a scheming warmonger than a heroic warrior."
This appealed to me, ole JC gets his behind kissed a bit too much so it would be good to see him portrayed a little differently.
This is the up to date more edited version, an advantage over the big publishing houses, the author has the ability to go back do those corrections and updates and edits and then resubmit them for the next print run very easily. especially for the kindle versions of this book.
This is a great title, with a great bunch of characters, set in a pivotal period of history. really is a winner on so many levels, don't miss it!
on 13 November 2014
I felt cheated a few times by this book: at first, I noticed it is the first one in a series, with a drug dealer type "first one free" technique. I feared I would get to the end only to be told that I need to buy the next book. Well, it's not like that. The Invasion of Gaul is a very round novel, with a classical beginning and end structure and a strictly chronological depiction of events. The ending is even built up, as the characters talk about it throughout. I am now however itching to read the next in the series, not because anything exciting is just about to happen to the heroes, but because I have come to know and like them and I have become too drawn into their lives not to follow them further. Besides, the price of the next books in the series is minuscule, and the author makes a point of it:
"I do, however, have control over the price of the electronic editions, and I have deliberately set them as low as the publishing system will allow. The reason for this is that I am passionate about both reading and writing, and I believe that books are becoming too pricey. If things continue with the current trend, people will stop reading unless they're quite wealthy, and will rely on TV. I would rather lower the price and encourage people to read."
Next thing I came to notice is how close the action in the books follows Caesar's De Bello Gallico. A quick research and a note at the end of the book reveal the author's full disclosure though: his purpose was to fictionalize Caesar's dry historical account in order to make it readable for the contemporary world. I'm not sure how I feel about this: while I feel it is a laudable enterprise, I think less of myself if I need fictionalization of the classics in order to access them. That's why I just started reading De Bello Gallico and will take up on Fronto's next adventures as soon as I finish it. So I'm guessing it's good then: a book that makes me read another book is always a good sign.
I do prefer fictionalizations in the style Charles Frazier writes, heavily documented and filling in with licences only when historical sources are mute. I did expect the main character, Fronto, to be drawn from some document or funerary stella and was a bit disappointed upon finding out it has not been the case. But Mr. Turney is excused considering this novel is spun solely out of passion for ancient Rome and he is not (or was not, at the time of writing) a professional writer.
That is not to say Marius' Mules is not heavily documented: on the contrary, the reader will be introduced to a lot of Roman terminology, way of thinking and military strategy. So much so that the book reminded me at times of Sun Tzu's Art of War. And I was always itching to play Rome: Total War and recreate Fronto's battles. It is just the characters that are plucked out of thin air, but they're all rounded out so well that it makes them all entirely credible.
An author's stated intention and a big plus of the book is to look at the men behind Caesar's successes and how they contributed to them. It is obvious that Julius Caesar could not have become the great commander he was without a number of supporters, but it is very easy to overlook the people whose name left no mark on the historical records.
A fault of the story is the chapter investigating the low morale of the army just before meeting the representatives of the Aedui tribes, and for now I cannot tell if the sub-plot is too thin because of the writing, because of the sources or due to a discrepancy between the Roman and the Western contemporary way of thinking. I did protest throughout about some lines that sound very British and very out of place when said by a Roman soldier, but I guess there's no getting around this: a Roman soldier would have an equivalent that would make little to no sense when translated literally from Latin. Another way around this would have been writing the whole damn book in Latin, but then we'd be talking about a completely different sort of an enterprise.
Just one last mention, and a very striking one at that: there is a very strong cinematographic feel to the book. Movements and costumes are described in so much detail that it would be a struggle not to view the action as a motion picture in the reader's mind. This book almost screams about being turned into a TV mini-series. I hope it will be, sooner rather than later and I would make an attempt at doing it myself, would it not be for the historical costumes and the huge number of extras involved, details that spell big budget production all along.
And that's pretty much it. I will probably have to say a lot more about not only Fronto, but also the likes of Aulus Crispus, Balbus or Ingenuus at the end of the seventh book. I am convinced that, would I have read this as a child, or even in my teen years, Fronto would have become one of my heroes, along with Winnetou the Apache, Tarzan of the Apes, D'Artagnan or Robin Hood. I can only hope that there is still a generation of kids out there who get their heroes from fictionalized history rather than Disney merchandise.
on 22 April 2011
This story is a well paced, page-turner, charting Julius Caesar's invasion of Gaul. If you are a fan of Historical Fiction from the likes of Simon Scarrow, Conn Iggulden and David Gemmell, then this really is a book for you!
With great characterisation, bloody battle scenes and political wranglings, the author tells a very different story of one of Rome's greatest Generals; revealing him to be a power-hungry politician rather than a hero of his people.
Written from the POV of the men under his leadership, you get a believable depiction of not only the man, but those under his command.
As an avid reader, I would have to say that this has been one of my favourite books this year.
A bloody triumph!
on 11 September 2012
... that I finished this series of books months ago and haven't as yet scribbled a review. I read a lot of Roman history, both fiction and non-fiction, the usual suspects ... Scarrow, Davis, Riches, Saylor, R.W Peake et al. No question, SJA Turney is a highly accomplished writer, and for those of us who like captivating story lines, who secretly imagine themselves sharing a campfire with their legionary tent mates, and who like to KEEP on following their new found buddies (that's a hint), you'll not regret enlisting with this legion.
on 17 December 2013
Like other reviewers I've waded through ( and enjoyed ) the Scarrow, R W Peake etc Roman series. I like books that run in a series because when you get to book 2 you are working with old friends. I liked the attitude of the hero ( Fronto ) in this book .. I hadn't really thought about a senior army officer telling Ceasar that some of his ideas were crap. I had sort of got the idea that what Ceasar said went .. a guy you just didn't disagree with if you wanted to get up next morning. But here we are .. one of Ceasar's top officers having a bit of rebel in him, getting away with murder and facing Ceasar down occasionally. A rebel with a cause, a guy loved by his men, a leader who makes his legion top dogs and even though he rattles Ceasar's cage now again Ceasar tolerates it because Fronto is a "special one". There is a great line in a later book where a Gaul tells Fronto "the tenth is a legion of chaos - that's what makes them the best". A reference to the spirit of the tenth. So in book 1 we get to meet the principal characters as they trundle about fighting and drinking and fighting and drinking and ... er, well more fighting and drinking really .. and a bit of marching and digging. But if you read Roman stories you know they are all like that .. it's the characters that make the story and I reckon in Fronto we have a real character. I even found that a couple of times I was thinking .. "Fronto .. you got to cut down the drinkng man and you need a wash and a shave .. you're really going to blow it with Ceasar this time". I mean, just how do you get away with snoring and farting when Ceasar is trying to plan tomorrow's battle ! Excellent read ...
on 24 March 2015
Yes, book started well for self publish but deteriorated as americanisms, bad grammar crept in. The ubiquitous he was sat etc. Then it seemed as if it was written by a football commentator with legionaries falling to the floor. Also, it seems that the author thinks that the hamstring is in the heel. I had considered giving the book 3 stars on the storyline but on reflection it consists of a few battles with officers getting drunk in between. I won't be buying an more in this series.
on 21 April 2015
I bought this book on reading an Amazon review on the latest Simon Scarrow book. The reviewer stated that the Marius Mules series was superior to the Scarrow Eagle series books. I really cannot agree. This book is reasonably written and easy to read, but there is no depth to any of the characters, they are two dimensional, you cannot identify with them and quite frankly the story lacks depth and detail. I still really do not know anything substantial or relevant about their backgrounds or careers to date. In the field it is much the same for the battles, the Romans lurch from one battle to another without any real sense as to how they got there or even if you care. The most senior officers tend to be drunk most of the time and the political machinations leave much to be desired, with the obligatory Colonel Blimp thrown in for luck. The enemy of which there are two in the book are really just names without any depth of understanding of their backgrounds or any other pertinent information about them. Having read this book I won’t be reading others in the series. Unlike the first of the Eagle series, where I looked forward to the sequel, I feel totally ambivalent about what happens to any of the characters.
on 17 April 2012
Having never heard of this author before I wasn't sure what to expect.i have thoroughly enjoyed this book and the characters he has created around Caesar and Brutus like Fronto, discovering Marius Mules has been a delight and I will continue to read my way through the rest of the series.I am definitely a fan!