Over the last few book of the Gaius Valerius Verrens series i have been forced to re-evaluate my views on Roman fiction writers. They fit into different brackets, there are the Roman crime writers, the Roman mystery writers, the Roman Blood and Guts (or sandals as some would class them) writers and there are the Roman Adventures, this last one for me is the cream of the crop, the beating heart of Roman fiction, getting into the hearts and minds of the characters and how they lived, how they died and how they interacted with the world full of conspiracy going on around them.
In book 1 Hero of Rome, Douglas Jackson wrote what i still consider to be the greatest, most evocative and emotional scene in any Roman Fiction book i have read, the temple scene left me stunned, and wondering if he could ever reach those heights again.
In book 3 Avenger of Rome Douglas Jackson took that skill and spread it throughout an entire novel. The back and forth plot lines with Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo coupled with the fast paced action packed plot made book 3 one of the best Roman fiction books written.
Book 4 Sword of Rome, for me had too much to live up to, how on earth could it rise to the heady heights of Avenger?
It tried and it made a damn fine job of it. The book covers the early part of the year of the four emperors, and reading it made for an interesting comparison to Henry Venmore Rowlands The Last Caesar and Sword and Throne: His duology following the trials of Aulus Caecina Severus where Douglas Jackson's follow Verrens and the opposite side under Otho.
This juxtaposition helped make the book an even greater experience. I was worried that Serpentius was starting to become too good, a caricature of the perfect fictional character, too good to be true, but then Douglas Jackson ended the book with a battle that was pitched just right, that played just perfectly to his ex-gladiators skills and gave the book a dramatic conclusion and set the series up to see the conclusion of the year of the 4 emperors out with our hero's front and centre and surrounded by intrigue.
If you have never read any of Douglas Jacksons books then although you can read each book as a stand alone, I would still recommend going back to the start of this series
Gaius Valerius Verrens
1. Hero of Rome (2010)
2. Defender of Rome (2011)
3. Avenger of Rome (2012)
4. Sword of Rome (2013)
You will be very hard pressed to find a finer series of books set in the Roman period.
Very Highly recommended
(If you are interested in an author Q&A visit my blog, link is on my profile)
1. Caligula: The Tyranny of Rome (2008)
2. Claudius (2009)
on 20 August 2013
Great,Brilliant,Fantastic and that was before i open The Sword of Rome and discovered that Douglas Jackson had me looking for more words to add to the praise of the Valerius series.The first three books have establish the series as one of the best around and my anticipation that The Sword of Rome would be just as good as the first three books was not missed placed,in fact,in my humble opinion this is the best yet,so Great,Brilliant,Fantastic.Chapter one sets the pace of the book and from then on it never falters,even when you are involved in the cut and thrust of the political dog fight`s of the Emperor`s.The action comes thick and fast as the story builds to the battle of Bedtiacum and Douglas Jackson has you in the heart of the battle,standing side by side with Valerius and Serpentius as the battle rages.With great research and writing of the highest quality,Douglas has produced a page turner that makes you want more of Galus Valerius Verrens and Serpentius and with such a great ending i am sure Douglas Jackson will be hunch over his typewriter plotting more Great,Brilliant and Fantastic books.
on 28 January 2014
It is criminal that it’s taken me so long to read ‘Sword of Rome’. Particularly given that Doug Jackson’s books are some of the literary highlights of my year. However, events conspired to keep it from me. What that meant was that during that dark and miserable time following New Year, at least I had a book to read which I was confident would be a belter!
I was so right. The Valerius Verrens series is one of the strongest historical series on sale at the moment of ANY era, let alone just the Roman. The first book (Hero of Rome) was one of the best I have ever read, and certainly concerned one of the most tense and memorable scenes of any novel. The sequel (Defender) was a strong contender and surprisingly successful, given the dark content and the controversial subject matter. Then along came book 3 (Avenger) and it was clear at that point that Doug’s series had hit the top of the genre. Avenger was one of my favourite books, perhaps better than Hero, though nothing will ever match the ‘siege of Colonia’ scenes. And with a lot to live up to, book 4 looked like it was fighting uphill, given that its subject matter is already strongly represented in Historical Fiction. Against the odds, Jackson has managed to turn that subject into a novel that vies with the best, and at least matches the quality of his previous epics if not surpassing them.
It was the way the story was told, for me. The year of the four emperors (the civil war of 69AD) is a famous time about which I have read a great deal, and it is hard to find a new angle to examine such a thing. Henry Venmore-Rowland produced a nicely detailed account from a traditional viewpoint. Manda Scott showed us the same events from a most unusual and fascinating perspective. So what was left? Simply, to tell Valerius’ own story using the evens of the time as the pinball table around which our unwilling hero is bounced painfully.
Valerius is an excellently-constructed and believable character. Not a superman in a cuirass or a blue-eyed boy of the people. Nor is he even the embittered veteran. He has avoided or transcended all stereotypes to become a fully rounded character in whom everyone will be able to see something familiar and to their liking. In a similar fashion, Serpentius, his right hand man, is a character who has grown beyond mere ‘supporting cast’ status now, to the point where he could almost support his own spin-off.
In this installment, Valerius, having journeyed to Spain to serve Galba, who is set on becoming Nero’s successor, finds himself drawn into a sequence of events that will see him killing emperors, acclaiming emperors, serving emperors in battle and on secret missions, and standing his moral ground against them – and we’re talking more than one emperor here. Essentially, in this turbulent year, most characters of no conscience could float through the currents by throwing their support behind whoever wears the purple this week. Most characters of conscience would live for an emperor and die for him as the next contender comes along. Valerius is lucky (or possibly UNlucky) enough that while his conscience and his unbreakable word force him to support even lost causes against old friends, blind luck and a pig-headed unwillingness to back down see him bounce back each time.
Hence the pinball analogy. That is what the book will leave you with.
You will experience this heart-stopping time in Roman history from the fertile lands of southern France, to the seething streets of Rome, to the countryside of Latium, the deadly Alpine passes, the forests of Germany, and the beleaguered lands of northern Italy. And Valerius will be your guide.
Apart from the sheer breakneck speed of the plot, and the tense action, there are three things I find recommend Sword of Rome:
Focus on unusual details. What do you know about the First Adiutrix Legion? I know their basic history and they’re quite a fascinating bunch, but I only know them from dry textbooks. Now I’ve had the chance to see them face to face.
Characters. Apart from the powerful continuing characters and at least one truly stunning, wicked bad guy returning, Jackson’s portrayals of the unyielding Galba, the unfortunate Otho, the unwilling Vitellius and the unmanned Nero are fresh and vivid and help them stand out in a year when an emperor could come and go faster than you can put on your pants!
The plot arc. The very obvious plot arc for anyone wanting to write a book on the year of the four emperors begins with Nero’s fall from grace and demise, follows through the numerous brief reigns, and ends with the accession of the dynasty-founding Vespasian. It seems clear. Henry VR split his story into two books, but it was still a standalone story in two halves. Manda covered the arc in one go. Jackson has eschewed the obvious and left the tale in a most unexpected place. Reaching the epilogue, all I could think of was ‘When is Enemy of Rome out?’
So there you have it. Breakneck action, vivid characters, a fresh, believable perspective, and a fabulous plot with a stunning, unexpected end. Don’t want to read it yet? Are you barking mad?
Another masterpiece, Doug.
Wow, this is powerful stuff. The hero of this series, Gaius Valerius Verrens, has had a tough time of it to date (including losing his hand) but as a man of honour it will prove difficult to survive in a time of civil war. This is the time of the "four emperors" where politics, ambition and treachery saw conflicting claims to the Roman Empire. It ended with Roman against Roman on the battlefield and that is where this story leads us.
Gaius Valerius Verrens is an honest man who holds true to the oaths he makes, but in a time of changing loyalties he is caught between things and trying to make sense of it. With his loyal Spanish Freedman with him, they carry messages while around them everything is in turmoil. This is a very different Roman actioner, no stoic legions against hairy barbarians here, this is Roman V Roman which gives a new perspective and a sense of menace to the whole book. Author Douglas Jackson captures the period and that sense of menace very well, and with Verrens as our viewpoint a turbulent and violent piece of history is presented in an exciting and enthralling way.
on 17 August 2013
This is the first novel I've read about the period of chaos and civil war which followed the assassination of the Emperor Nero. It dodges about a bit, as one might expect, but is a super read, as I've come to expect. Plenty of treachery, betrayal and blood and guts - standard fare for this period and much of the Roman Empire.
OK, you love historical fiction, want high octane action which when backed with twists and turns of the political machinations of Rome generates a story that you just can't leave. So what are you going to do? Well if you've been following the release schedule for the last few years, you'll have seen Douglas Jackson going from not only strength to strength but adding a set of figures that make him one of the growing stars of the genre for me.
I love his characters, I love the way he blends historical facts into the story and above all else, for me, I love the way he utilises great action sequences to help the pace alongside balancing the slower moments that are just as full of tension as a misplaced word can have all sorts of catastrophic effects. All round another solid offering in this series and one that readers will gather around to see what is next in line for the principle hero. However the only downside in this book and one that I'm letting readers know about is you have to have read the other titles in the series first to get the most from this. All round though, great stuff.
on 22 October 2013
The Tyrant is dead. The Emperor Nero, after his bloody excesses has been declared an outlaw by the senate. Not wishing to be taken alive, he takes his own life thus ending the Julio/Claudian line.
With his death comes anarchy as Generals via for the purple. The victor appears to be Galba, the 75 year old veteran who's experience seems to make him a the perfect choice.
Galba's reign is short lived as he forgoes the option of paying his troop a bonus to getting him the throne and worse of all he makes an enemy of Otho, who promptly has Galba killed and takes the throne for himself.
In the middle of this whirlpool of politics and danger is our hero Valerius. Sworn to Otho but friends with the next pretender to the throne, Vitellius his loyalty is tested to the limits and Valerius knows that his life hangs in the balance.
Known to everyone for his bravery and loyalty and as a Hero of Rome, Valerius is the ideal man to attempt to make peace between Otho and Vitellius.
Getting to Vitellius to make the offer won't be that easy. With his trusted servant Serpentius as company, they must travel across a land scared by war and mistrust already.
To make matters even more complicated, someone from Valerius's past is out for revenge and only his painful and bloody death will do.
As matters move to their climatic end has Valerius backed the right man? Can he survive the upcoming battle and his revengeful enemy?
Whatever happens, Valerius knows he is the Sword of Rome.
I have been a huge fan of Douglas Jackson's Valerius series since reading the first book Hero of Rome in 2010. I would defy anyone to find a better series set in the Roman period.
Douglas Jackson is a master of his craft and he has assembled a cast of characters that over the four books you learn to admire and truly care for.
Valerius for example is written as close to what I feel a true Roman officer would feel and think than in any other book I have read. He is kind and generous to his friends, has a tender side that we see with his dealing with his sister and Dominta but at the same time can be utterly ruthless and is capable of serious violence when he needs to. Killing and maiming are a necessary evil to achieve his aims.
In all of Douglas Jackson's book there seems to me to be a theme that runs throughout the book. In Hero of Rome it was self sacrifice. How willing were the characters prepared to go to defend their way of life and their loved ones.
In Defender of Rome it seemed to be about power. How absolute power could corrupt and twist your view of your surrounding and the people around you but also how the power of religion could make people withstand the worst that could be done to them.
In Avenger of Rome it seemed to be about how far were you prepared to go when ordered to do something you didn't believe in. Would you commit an act that you thought wrong to save your own skin?
With this book the theme is loyalty and how far are you willing to go for that loyalty. Does loyalty to your friend outweigh your loyalty to your emperor? Does loyalty mean you stay to the very end even though it could mean death for you and everyone you care for?
This is what I love about these books. They explore in great detail what each theme does to Valerius and the agony he goes though as he tries to satisfy his honour as well as his duty.
This book also has one of Douglas Jackson's trademark epic set pieces and in fact in this book we are treated to two. With a siege and a battle we really are spoilt and if you have read my previous reviews of the Authors book you will know just how could these can be.
This book will easily make my top five books of 2013 and I highly recommend the whole series.