There are many Roman era Historical Fiction books and authors on the market now and they explore differing facets of the Roman world and the roman army. What the majority of them have in common is that the culmination, the pièce de résistance of the story is the great battle, the pulling together of all the threads so the hero wins, or survives to fight another day over coming terrible odds. All this is what most of us readers want in a novel, something of great power and motivation, coupled with great story telling and that touch of escapism to take us beyond the borders of our lives into another time and place, to maybe give us a little piece of that heroic feeling.
With Manda Scott's Eagle of the Twelfth you get all the usual accomplished parts of a roman novel, but then you get something more, something that I always felt I got touches of in Simon Scarrow's early eagle novels, but In Manda's to a much greater depth. You get to be the hero, to feel the heroes thoughts, cares concerns, you ride along in his skin rather than as an observer, but you experience it as a real person doing heroic deeds rather than a prefab hero.
Eagle of the Twelfth is not just Manda's triumph, Demalion of Macedon is her triumph.
For those readers who are expecting a swords and sandals heroic ride with a Scarrow or Riches style swagger, its there, but expect also for the legion to finally be stripped back to its real warts and all self. Because Eagle of the Twelfth gives an expose on just why these men conquered the world, how they were so tough, why they fought so much as a unit and how they used that comradeship, that family of the eagle to survive the cold the heat, the rain the hell of war, Life in the ancient world.
The cover of the book proudly states on a sticker, "as good as Conn Iggulden or your money back", And I have to say Conn in the case of this book, I think Manda has you beat (well maybe not Wolf of the Plains) but Rome for Rome.
This book captures not just the epic scale of Rome's legions, but its core, its heart, its soul, its very essence, what made the men tick.
This book is going right up there as one of my best for 2012 Very Highly recommended, not just for those who like Historical fiction, but for those whole love great fiction told by a great story teller.
Throughout the Roman Army, the Twelfth Legion is notorious for its ill fortune. It faces the harshest of postings, the toughest of campaigns, the most vicious of opponents. For one young man, Demalion of Macedon, joining it will be a baptism of fire. And yet, amid all of the violence and savagery of his life as a legionary, he realises he has discovered a vocation - as a soldier and a leader of men. He has come to love the Twelfth and all the bloody-minded, dark-hearted soldiers he calls his brothers.
But all that he cares about is ripped from him when, during the brutal Judaean campaign, the Hebrew army inflict a catastrophic defeat upon the legion - not only decimating their ranks, but taking away their soul - the eagle.
There is one final chance to save the legion's honour - to steal back the eagle. To do that, Demalion and his legionnaries must go undercover into the city of Jerusalem, into the very heart of their enemy, where discovery will mean the worst of deaths, if they are to recover their pride.
And that, in itself, is a task worthy only of heroes.
on 20 January 2013
In "Rome: The Eagle of the Twelfth", we are transported to that Legion's participation in the War in Parthia, and subsequent action in Jerusalem. The Twelfth Legion has to endure shame, and near-obliteration, before finding redemption through the actions of the author's principal characters.
Authenticity seems to drip from every page of M. C. Scott's novel; whether it is the superstitions of the common soldier, the description of the local geography or the tactics and training of this incredibly well-drilled fighting machine. And it's so difficult to review such a story and refrain from including "spoilers" - but they are called that for a reason, and I would hate to lessen your enjoyment of this by tipping you off to the action, now!
This book centres around Demalion of Macedon, his comrades, and their immediate leaders - some loved and some loathed, and, as with many armies throughout history, the effects their decisions have on the campaigns being waged. The action unfolds in several, different and distinct phases; each one with a different feel and atmosphere, and each one pivotal to the development of the plot.
I cannot emphasise strongly enough what a good story this is; my favourite periods of history are the myths and legends of Greece; and the empire-building of Rome, and this latter is not only well catered for, here, but actually adds to my knowledge - and, therefore, my enjoyment of the tale. I have added the author's other novels to my wishlist - can't give any higher praise than that?
Anyone who calls one of their leading characters "Pantera" is ok in my book - and in his!
The two previous volumes of this series were more focused on Pantera, the Emperor's spy. While he still is one of the main characters, the real hero of this histoical novel is one Demalion of Macedon, son of a Macedonian horse trader (the descendant of the horse trader who sold Bucephalus to Alexander) who has joined the rather disreputable XII legion.
To this original twist, the book's prologue adds a highly dramatic ploy, and a very successful one, that put Demalion in a situation that reminds us of a Roman version of Thermopylae. I am often a bit suspicious when an author starts using these kind of ploys because they are sometimes a substitute for a poor plot. This is not at all the case here. The ploy worked very well for me and got me "hooked" in immediately. The narrative then goes on to tell what happened in Hyrkania, in Parthian territory, some four years before, where Demalion was part of what we would now call a special operation (in fact an assassination) together with centurion Cadus and under the command of Pantera, but I won't tell you the rest of the story, which is highly enjoyable, fast-paced and mostly accurate.
In fact, this is one of the book's additional strongpoint. Unlike what many authors tend to do, Manda Scott has "sticked" with the historical sources as much as possible, proving that it is perfectly possible to write an excellent historical novel while keeping it as historically accurate as possible. So, the disastrous campaign conducted by the incompetent, jealous and cowardly Roman Governor Paetus did happen as described in the book. It did end with the shameful surrender of what was left of his two legions, including the Twelth Fulminata and this largely ruined the tireless effort of Corbulo's, at the time Rome's most successful general, and a potential danger to Nero. What Manda Scott does not mention, however, is that Paetus, although recalled to Rome, was - rather strangely - not punished for his abyssmally poor performance by Nero and that L. Caesennius Paetus was in fact the son-in-law of Sabinus (Vespasian's elder brother) whose daughter he had married. It also seems that he had been sent to annex Armenia. One cannot help wondering whether these orders, which, in effect, contradicted somewhat the objectives of Corbulo, were not also intended to undermine the latter's effort to reach a balanced peace agreement with the Parthians.
The second great piece are the events surrounding the failed siege of Jerusalem and the defeat of Cestius Gallus at Beth Horon. Here too, the narrative is mostly historically accurate, although there are a few exceptions. One was that there seems to have been no cataphract cavalry allied to the Jewish rebles. Another is that, rather than the set piece battle that we are shown, it is more likely that the Roman forces and their allies were in fact trapped and badly mauled when going through the passes, something that the Jews had already done previously to a Seleucid force decades before. A third was that at least half of the Roman forces did manage to get away, although they did lose their siege equipment in the process. Anyway, this is quibbling and the author's interpretations here do not have the slightest negative impact on the novel, quite the reverse in fact.
The third great piece is Manda Scott's tribute to Rosemary Suttcliff's Eagle of the Ninth that generations of children and teen-agers in the UK (and abroad!) have been almost literally brought up on. This is the rescue mission to recuparate the legionary Eagle of the Twelth in ennemy territory, after the legion had been almost destroyed and had lost its Eagle. I won't elaborate on this part tto much, but it is just as good as the others, even if purely fictional. One of its strong point is to show the kind of atmosphere that existed within the insurgent city of Jerusalem, and the horrible infighting between the moderates and several factions of extremists among the Jews: in addition to a "leberation war" against the Roman occupier and their puppet king, the various factions also engaged in vicious infighting and this civil war sometimes even took precedence against fighting the Romans.
The last great piece; in my view, is Manda Scott's depiction of Vespasian. As she acknowledges, this is largely drawn from Barbara Lewick's excellent biography, although she adds her considerable talent in making the future Emperor, who was about 60 at the time, really come to life. This might be prejudice on my part (and it certainly is to the extent that I have always had a soft spot for Vespasian), but he is painted exactly as I imagine him to be.
Needless to say, this book worked wonderfully well for me and therefore it fully deserves the top rating.
on 26 September 2013
Found one in a charity shop and so good I had to buy the whole series. Cannot put the books down and look forward to reading the other series written by her. Easy to read and battle scenes very visual and moments where time seems to stand still.
A great read really recommend it.
Telling the story of Demalion, a reluctant soldier in Rome's legions, this book is far from a throwaway sword n' sandal read of epic bloody battles and vague characters. This is the story of an entire Roman legion, the 12th to be exact. We follow Demalion from his reservations, to his enthusiasm, then to his eventual love of his legion and his follow soldiers. The characters are all so beautifully detailed, their story so engaging, that it is like reading a biography. I have never read any historical fiction quite like this, it is in a different league and has authenticity and great writing at its core. When I say the writing is detailed I seriously mean it, right down to different types of clothing, layouts of Roman army camps and even types of horses! I finished the book half convinced that everything I had read, including all the characters, were real and if I'm honest, I wanted them to be. The characters had such a sense of honour and duty it was hard not to admire them, not to cheer them on in their mission to retrieve their Eagle, the object that means so much to every legion. I loved following the 12th through their triumphs, defeats, sorrow and redemption, this is a truly thrilling read and I will be reading more from this author.
on 3 January 2013
I liked Manda Scott's Boudica series so much that I thought I would also enjoy the Rome set. However, the Boudica books were much more in the eminently readable and very believable 'social history' genre, whilst the Rome books were too much on a par with detective/mystery stories for me. I couldn't relate to the characters in the Rome series in the way I could with the Boudica books. I shall just have to re-read Boudica!
Incidentally, my daughter - just coming up for 30 - also enjoyed Boudica to the point of reading, then re-reading, but didn't enjoy Rome.
on 10 July 2012
I love the first two Rome books. I've given them both a well deserved 5 of 5 stars in reviews. What I need is to give them 9 of 10, I think, so that I have somewhere new to go with Eagle of the Twelfth for, while the first two novels are excellent, this one is outstanding and deserves a little extra credit.
In a fresh, unusual, and most welcome move, Manda has taken the Rome series off at a tangent, though rather than forming a separate series along the new line, she has bent the original tales to follow.
The first two novels are essentially the tale (told in two parts) of Sebastos Abdes Pantera, an agent of Seneca in the reign of Nero, and his longstanding battle with a man of equal skill and knowledge, though twisted into something wicked and dangerous, seeking ultimate power and destruction at once. They are told in the traditional third person and follow on in a tried-and-tested chronology.
Not so, Eagle of the Twelfth. Where previously, Pantera has been the principal character with a supporting cast of fascinating others, in this tome, Pantera IS that fascinating other, while the story revolves around a fresh, new character: Demalion of Macedon. Moreover, the tale is told in first person from Demalion's point of view, lending it a personal and emotional feel way above and beyond the first two books.
I spent some time wondering why the author had settled on this new perspective. Then something clicked. Other than the new and fresh feel it lent the book, it also solved a potential problem. You see, the second book seals off one chapter in the life of Pantera, and his tale could have ended there, but for the fact that Scott left him in a somewhat untenable position from where he was unlikely to bounce back. This new direction allows the tale to become more of Demalion and his part in giving Pantera a future. I won't say that this was the reason the book was written this way, but it certainly works nicely like this.
After a rousing prologue, the story begins some years before the first Rome novel, in the territory of the King of Kings, ruler of the vast Parthian Empire, anathema of Rome. Here, Demalion, a young man fresh to the Fifth legion, has been seconded to help Pantera on a mission deep within enemy territory.
Having succeeded, he is recommended for promotion by Pantera and receives it, to his great regret. You see, the only legion he can be promoted into is the Twelfth Fulminata, a legion with a reputation for ill luck and disaster to whom no soldier wishes a transfer.
So begins the first part of the tale: a story of personal growth and trying to remake a disasterous legion once more into a proud fighting force. Unfortunately, the Twelfth is doomed to suffer setback after setback, resulting finally in the ultimate disgrace for a legion: the loss of its Eagle.
By this point, however, the tale has once more caught up with Pantera, following the events of the first two Rome books, and the second half or so of 'Eagle' tells the tale of the first great Jewish war, painting into its history the part that must be played by Pantera, the loss of the eagle and the attempt to recover it, and the growth and blossoming of the great soldier and deep person that is Demalion of the Twelfth.
This book is at least the equal of the first two in the series in Scott's ability to paint vivid and wonderful, believable characters, with all their flaws and foibles, loves and fears, and also in her masterful treatment of the animals in her stories, but this story also goes deep into what it means to be a soldier of Rome and what the legions meant to those who served in them. It is an educational tool as much as a great tale in that respect, and I cannot recommend it highly enough as both gripping tale and educational tool.
Eagle of the Twelfth is a masterpiece on an almost unprecedented scale in the world of Roman fiction. I find it mind-boggling trying to imagine how Scott planned this book without a time machine, a reenactment group, a whiteboard the size of Westminster and twelve coloured pens and half a dozen assistants.
I do believe that it is possible to read this as a start to the series, though I suspect the reader will get more out of it following the series in written order. Whether you want to read this now and see if my ravings stand up, or start with the Emperor's Spy and build up to it, give it a go. You owe it to your soul.
on 2 September 2012
Another great story with excellent characters and historical accuracy from M.C Scott. The book immerses you back into the day to day activities of the Roman legions and the realities of their short violent lives, loves and triumphs. For the service from Amazon, excellent as ever.
on 22 September 2013
I have read many novels set in the era of ancient Greece, and the Roman Republic and Empire; and I have enjoyed this the most of all. The characters are strong and believable, and you care for them; and a moving love story unfolds through the course of the book.
On top of that, the quality of the writing is lyrical and superb; and I can't wait to read the next novel in the series, both to enjoy more of M. C. Scott's writing; and to discover what happens to Demalion and the other characters we have met in this, and in the previous books; and above all, the enigmatic Pantera, whose story runs through them all
on 15 January 2014
Reading MCScott's third in this set of four Roman era books is more of an experience than desk pursuit...... here we accompany the Legions throughout their privations, their devotions, their ceremonies......and their passions !!
This author really brings to life her characters and involves us in their objectives..... we travel from Armenia, to Syria, and then on to Jerusalem, where the 12th attempts to regain their lost honour.......
Thoroughly enjoyed this brilliant storytelling, and learnt much about the history of this period..... still under the rule of Nero, but with new Generals moving up the hierarchy, from whom we will be hearing much more later.......