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Masters of the Sea - Ship of Rome [Hardcover]

John Stack
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Jan 2009 Masters of the Sea

Against a backdrop of the clash of the Roman and Carthaginian empires, the battle for sovereignty takes place on the high seas.

Atticus, captain of one of the ships of Rome's small, coastal fleet, is from a Greek fishing family. Septimus, legionary commander, reluctantly ordered aboard ship, is from Rome, born into a traditionally army family. It could never be an easy alliance. But the arrival of a hostile fleet, larger, far more skilful and more powerful than any Atticus has encountered before, forces them to act together.

So Atticus, one of Rome's few experienced sailors, finds himself propelled into the middle of a political struggle that is completely foreign to him. Rome need to build a navy fast but the obstacles are many; political animosities, legions adamant that they will only use their traditional methods; Roman prejudice even from friends, that all those not born in Rome are inferior citizens.

The enemy are first class, experienced and determined to control the seas. Can Atticus, and the fledgling Roman navy, staffed with inexperienced sailors and unwilling legionaries, outwit and outfight his opponents?

SHIP OF ROME, full of magnificent sea-battles, packed with strong characters, torn between two powerful empires, is the first book in a new series, MASTERS OF THE SEA, by a brilliant new author.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; First Edition edition (5 Jan 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 000728523X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007285235
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 462,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Stack was born and lives in County Cork. He has always wanted to write but has done a variety of jobs ending up in IT. He is married with three children, and is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling Masters of the Sea series

Product Description


‘Strong characters, excellent action, SHIP OF ROME builds to a suberb climax’

‘Peopled with characters both fictional and historical, this debut novel - the first in the Masters Of The Sea series - gives a fascinating and evocative insight into the high politics and military life of the times’
Daily Mail

‘This is a seriously entertaining book for anyone who enjoys stirring descriptions of ancient warfare. You can almost taste the salt, see the blood and hear the shouts and screams…John Stack is to be welcomed into the ranks of first-rate historical writers’
Tuam Herald

‘Crank up the testosterone, this one’s a fighter!’
U Magazine Ireland

From the Publisher

Q & A with John Stack, Author of Ship of Rome

Why did you decide to write a historical fiction for your debut novel?

The first novels I read were historical novels which I loved. When the Lion Feeds by Wilbur Smith and Shogun by James Clavell are among my first favourites. I’m a big fan of history, in particular military history, but when I read an academic historical book I often find that they deal with primarily with the commanders of the particular period and their decisions and tactics. I’m more interested in the ordinary foot-soldiers, trying to imagine what the conditions were like for them and what compelled them to fight. Writing historical novels is a great way to explore these themes, to see history through the eyes of forgotten men, to relive their triumphs and failures and explore how ordinary men do extraordinary things to shape the course of history and the destiny of empires.

What made you chose Rome and this period of Roman history?

I have a BA in Italian and so have a real interest in Italian history, both ancient and modern. The Roman period is full of fascinating characters and history-shaping events and although we know so much, there are also large periods that are overlooked. The first Punic war between Rome and Carthage is one of these periods.

The story of the early stages of the first Punic War was a great opportunity to explore the theme of how forgotten men shaped history. The Carthaginians had developed an impressive navy over many generations and although the Romans still held the advantage on land their navy was all but non-existent, a coastal fleet used only for pirate hunting. With the Carthaginians controlling the sea-lanes, Sicily was out of Rome’s reach.

That all changed with the introduction of the corvus boarding ramp, a simple yet brilliant device that allowed the Romans to deploy land-trained troops at sea. It was an invention that ultimately decided the early stages of the war and allowed the Romans to build up their experience to a point where they could challenge the Carthaginians on the high-seas. For all its importance however, the inventor of the corvus is not recorded, although any theories I have found point to ordinary, socially insignificant men. This man, this forgotten soldier or sailor, in essence saved Rome’s campaign on Sicily at a time when the Carthaginian navy should have swept the Roman navy from the seas.

Where do you write? Do you have any bad habits?

I generally write in my car, sitting in the front passenger seat with my laptop on my knees. I have three small children so peace and quiet have long since been banished from the house. Normally I drive to a quiet car park, if possible over-looking the water, (I live in Cork which has one of the world’s largest natural harbours), power up the laptop and pray for inspiration! My target each day is 1,000 words. Some days I get there, others days not, depending on whether I need to spend time on research or developing the overall plot. I wrote Ship of Rome sequentially, from the first line of chapter one all the way through and I find it impossible to leave a section unfinished before progressing. It’s a really bad habit because I sometimes spend hours stuck on one line, or paragraph, trying to get it right, unable to simply skip it and revisit it later.

My biggest bad habit however is a tendency to go off on tangents when I am researching a historical point. Most of the reference books I use cover all three Punic wars, and it is easy to get lost in one of the major battles of the subsequent wars. I have to leave all my books at home and out of my car to ensure that when I write I can stay on track!

Has the sea always interested you?

Yes, I grew up in the coastal town, Youghal, which has an active fishing port and a five mile beach. The town has strong historical connections to the sea. Vikings are believed to have used the port as a base of operations, the explorer and privateer Sir Walter Raleigh had a home there and the town was used as a backdrop for the 1956 movie Moby Dick.

Living so close to the sea, in a town where around every corner there are historical reminders of the sea’s importance, it is impossible to separate the sea from my identity.

What or who inspired the character of the sea captain? Were you always going to make him an outsider?

The character of Atticus is largely shaped by the historical events in the book. Initially I saw him as an experienced and respected captain, a strong character. From that base I shaped Atticus’s character as the story progressed, moulding it every time he was challenged or was exposed to something new, allowing events to shape his life.

At the time the book is set the Roman Republic was expanding aggressively, assimilating provinces and their people within single generations. It was this diversity within their borders that gave Rome strength, in this case the naval expertise of a non-Roman, and I enjoyed writing Atticus from that perspective.

Finally I believe people have an affinity with outsiders because many of us have felt like an outsider at least once in our lives and we never forget that sense of isolation and insecurity.

Atticus and his friend Septimus have a very complicated friendship. Was this enjoyable to write?

Very much so. Rome was five hundred years old by the time Atticus sees it for the first time. It was a very traditional society, religious and hierarchical and Septimus embodies many of those qualities. Atticus also comes from an ancient society and a city with traditions created over generations, albeit very different to Roman society.

On the surface therefore the two men are dissimilar and I enjoyed exploring how their working relationship and ultimately their friendship is shaped by their diverse backgrounds. Even the common ground they share was arrived at differently. Atticus chose to fight in the navy whereas Septimus followed his father’s path into the legions without question.

They are both men of tradition but it is their flight from those traditions, Atticus from a fisherman to a military captain and Septimus from a legionnaire to a marine that also complicates their friendship as each has to come to terms with their path in life while each man is continually shaping the life of the other, drawing each other into their respective worlds.

Did you find the battle scenes hard to write? Do you envisage them while you are writing or do you have any helpful assistance from video games or Risk?

I love writing the battle scenes. I begin with just the bare bones of the sequence in my mind, who will survive, which side will prevail, but once I start writing the scene the battles always take on a life of their own, the individual contests, the pivotal moments that decide the outcome. As the battle intensifies I always find I can’t type fast enough to keep up with the action!

Are any of your characters real figures from history? If so, which ones? Do you prefer to write real or imaginary characters?

Hannibal Gisco, Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Asina, Gaius Duilius and Hamilcar Barca are all real historical characters although Gisco and Barca never served together, (Barca commanded the Carthaginians over ten years after Gisco’s death). Scipio was captured at Lipara and the other consul that year, Duilius, led the Romans at Mylae. Aside from these career highlights, where their ambitions interacted directly with the war, there are few historical details regarding these characters, (although more is known about Hamilcar as he was Hannibal Barca’s father). I love the opportunity therefore to explore the motives and aspirations of these men in the context of the historical record, moulding these characters around actual events in their lives.

I don’t have a particular preference in writing real or imaginary characters. The imaginary characters, in particular Atticus and Septimus, are written against the same historical backdrop and while there is, I believe, greater scope to explore some of the themes I am interested in, such as history’s forgotten heroes, I am conscious of keeping them as anonymous in the story as they were in history.

How do you do your research? How important is this to the finished book?

I stick mainly to the academic texts of scholars who have studied the subject in detail. The older books require some discipline to read as they can be quiet turgid but I find contemporary historical academic writers use a more narrative approach and are therefore easier to study.

Historical accuracy is very important to me. Sometimes the narrative requires a little twisting of the facts but I always endeavour to keep as close to the historical record as possible.

Do you read other historical novels? Do you have a favourite book?

I’ve always been a big fan of historical novels and my favourite is Shogun by James Clavell. It’s a massive book, with dozens upon dozens of characters and Clavell creates a really impressive insight into Japanese culture of the late 16th century.

My favourite book outside of historical novels is Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. I read it for the first time over ten years ago, have read it countless times since and every time I read it I am left re-examining my understanding of the book and its characters.

If you could live in one period in history which would it be?

Many of the historical moments we witness today effect the entire world, whether it be the fall of communism or the 9/11 attacks, and Ireland, like many other countries is effected both directly and indirectly by such events.

I’ve always wanted to live at a time however when history irrevocably changed my country during a single lifetime, when events transpired so quickly that a single person could bear witness to the entire change. For me a pivotal moment in Irish history was its war of independence from the British Empire and its subsequent civil war. It was a time of great change and social upheaval in Ireland, when the events that affected the nation also impacted on every family, creating alliances and dividing lines that lasted generations. I would like to have witnessed and been part of those changes, not perhaps on the greater political stage but as one of the ‘forgotten’ men whose actions changed the course of Irish history.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have been much better... 2 Sep 2010
Lets start with the positive elements. They are a few. This is a first novel and, despite its serious flaws, it is an exciting read. The topic chosen by the author is somewhat original: the First Punic War (264-241 BC, the Roman Republic versus Carthage), with a strong emphasis on naval warfare. Another caveat: historical sources are either Roman or Greek, meaning they are biaised. There aren't any Carthagenian sources simply because the Romans obliterated Carthage and its civilisation when they finally conquered the city in 146 BC, meaning that any author will have difficulties when trying to describe elements related to Carthage. However, the book could have been much better. As others has mentioned, it associates carboard characterization and atrocious research (or no research at all?). The book is supposed to be, after all, a work of HISTORICAL fiction. The author should be expected to get his facts right and to have done his research properly. He obviously has not been bothered to do so, neither has he properly checked the consistency of the story. A few examples:

1) Rowers in triremes or quinqueremes (trieres and penteres, for the Greeks) were NOT slaves in Antiquity and were NOT chained, contrary to what Holywood's Ben Hur (and the author of this book) state

2) The port of Broelium is pure invention and, throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages, fleets of war galleys were rather inefficent at conducting blockades, if only because they had very little storage capacity and needed to put in every 24 or (at most) 48 hours to replenish their reserves of fresh water. This also means that they rarely were capable (and even more rarely wanted) to sail by night

3) Contrary to what is suggested, there is little tide in the Mediterranean...
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great new historical fiction author 14 April 2009
By chuckles VINE VOICE
As a huge fan of historical fiction, with Iggulden, Scarrow, Cornwell and Manfredi amongst my favourites, I am always on the lookout for new authors. For me, I think Stack may just be a new one for the list. It must be hard at the moment to jump on the bandwagon without doing the same as everyone else, but I think he has managed it. Stack has gone for an earlier period in Roman history in the first Punic war, where Rome was in its infancy rather than the typical Caesar onwards tradition that most people are familiar with. This for me is especially fascinating as they are not the all conquering power in Europe, but just an up and coming force. In addition to this, he goes for the sea angle instead of the legions that most other do. This gives a whole new direction that feels fresh. Mix the facts with the usual fictional characters, battles & love interests and you have a sure fire winner. The fact that his writing is excellent and you really immerse yourself into the book adds to the experience. Shame I am going to have to wait quite some time for the follow up I guess. Highly recommended!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars very average 14 Dec 2010
I was a fair bit disappointed with this book to be honest. It faults were :-

Terrible characterisation. The two heroes Atticus and Septimus were completely interchangable, their personalities identical, which was to say devoid of any! Gisco the Carthaginian leader was a complete pantomime baddie I was expecting him to twirl his tache and go 'Mwaahhaaha!' and rush off to tie a few young girls to some railway tracks.

The Romance was clumsy. two people who we are told have met a couple of times suddenly seem madly in love. No dialogue, no sexual tension and no previous indication they were even interested in each other.

Then the turning point of the book. The invention of the 'Corvus' we are expected to believe that all the combined might of Rome's engineers were unable to think of a drop down ramp to allow soldiers to board their enemies ship. No it took a lowley sea Captain to think of it when he saw one used on a transport ship to disembark troops into port! so they couldn't even invent it even though they pretty much already had it?! amazing they went on to build all those bridges, aquaducts, the Colosseum, Hadrians wall...enough already

On the positive side. It was great that a Roman book did not feature either Julius Caesar or the dying final days of the empire or even a besieged legion. No the story was set refreshingly early in the days of the Empire and featured the start of the Punic war. But this story does not do well when measured against Scarrow, Sidebottem or Iggulden, in fact if it was a Gladiatorial bout I think Stack would quickly be face down in the sand!

Still there seems to be an insatiable demand for Roman themed books so if you need something to keep you going till the next Blockbuster from any of the above this may do a job.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Rise of Rome 16 Jan 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
As most people know - Rome was not built in a day. However, this does not stop fiction about the Roman Empire concentrating on the time of Emperors and power. Before the Caesars could rise to power the Empire had to be built. This is the time in history that John Stack concentrates on and for that reason is a different take on Rome than most. Atticus is a Captain of a moderate sized war ship in the under strength Roman navy. On board he has hundreds of rowing slaves and around 60 marines, including their centurion Septimus. Unlike Julius Caesar's day this is a Rome surrounded by enemies they are not confident in defeating including the powerful Carthagins, whose navy is seemingly insurmountable. Stack tells the story of Rome's first tentative steps into naval warfare and Atticus' role in it.

By concentrating on a slightly less mined area of Roman history I found Stack's first book very interesting. There are many similarities to Rome here and later Rome, but the relative weakness make Atticus and his marine friend Septimus a far more vulnerable target. The battles that take place throughout the book on both land and water are well researched and exciting to read. I also liked the main characters and the way that several potential enemies were made for later novels. The areas that the book falls down on are all due to Stack trying to cram too much into one book. The various relationships that are hinted in the book are never fully realised and it felt like character development was sacrificed to make the story faster. It's clear that as part of a series this will come in time.

I will certainly read the other books in the series as John Stack is a good addition to the likes of Igguldun, Scarrow and Cornwell. The action and excitement is of a high standard; the characters will grow with time. This is a book ideal for historic fiction fans looking for a new author for their collection.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent story
This is an excellent book for those that like reading about Roman history, but also enjoy an exciting story. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Williamr
5.0 out of 5 stars Ship of Rome Loved it!!
Don't normally read books of this ilke.
but I read the sample liked it!
read the book loved it!! Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mr J Duckett
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, really enjoyed this one
History with drama. Loved the details, reasonably accurate well within my own tolerances. I have read a lot of historical novel and this one is right up there with the best of... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Spotter
1.0 out of 5 stars Innacurate
I tried to get into this book but having read historical text on the subject the inaccuracies are glaring (Looking at you galley slaves) and the sea writing is very poor compared... Read more
Published 11 months ago by D. A. Nicholls
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun Read
Has great action scenes of the First Punic War (c 256 BC), while highlighting the political calumny, corruption, conniving etc. Read more
Published 22 months ago by C. Tischhauser
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read shame about the seamanship
Sadly having an o level in seamanship and navigation it's a bit difficult to swallow Trireremes being refloated on an incoming tide of just 25 cm or 1ft to the average Anglo... Read more
Published 22 months ago by William Rattlepilum
4.0 out of 5 stars ENJOYABLE
This was an enjoyable read although at some times the politics of Rome and the senate etc all got to be a bit too dry for me. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Douglas Brown
2.0 out of 5 stars Good subject, poor execution
The idea of exploring the Roman navy is worthwhile, and the creation of that navy is obviously a good place to start - on an unfamiliar element, facing an expert and equally strong... Read more
Published on 19 Mar 2012 by Stephen Wortley
4.0 out of 5 stars Cometh the hour...
Sea captain Atticus seizes the initiative when the emerging Roman navy is under enemy attack, providing crucial support to a powerful member of the Senate. Read more
Published on 19 Dec 2011 by JoTownhead
4.0 out of 5 stars Masters of Rome - Ship of Rome
A good first novel & it's nice to know that he used the term 'Legionaries' rather than making the mistake that so many writers make by using the term 'Legionairs' - which I think... Read more
Published on 7 Dec 2011 by Dr. G
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