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Fans of Roman Historical Fiction will undoubtedly have tried at least one Harry Sidebottom title. They're well written, beautifully researched and have memorable characters who find ways to help keep Rome on top of the world, stamping their own brand of Justice in their size x steel studded caligae.

What unfurls in this title, for me, is Harry's best book to date, from its almost Gemmellesque prologue to its heavy adventure of bloody slaughter as our hero, Ballista, faces the might of the Goths in a no holds barred battle to the death. Back this up with great prose, some deliciously soldierly dialogue and tie it up with an almost mythical reading of pace and you know that it's going to be a book that will be hard to put down. Great stuff.
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on 11 September 2014
Read four of these books in eight weeks all well wrote and a lot of facts in them , started reading them when finished Ben Kane book and found recommendation at end these are as good if not better than Simon scarrow and Ben Kane books for a quarter of the price
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on 21 July 2011
Surely it'd be puerile to point out that Harry Sidebottom's Roman adventure features a character called Mastabates? Not that it seems in any way awkward in his latest work, a book that stands out for its earthy, army dialogue, something the very learned Mr S has really got the hang of, though I'm sure he doesn't use it in his university lectures.

His Warrior of Rome series, following the battles of the rugged Ballista both on and off the bloody pitch, form a body of man-reading girlies would struggle to understand. There's history and detail to satisfy the keenest speccy-wearing buff, of course. But there's also blood'n'guts a-plenty to feed those primal urges.

In The Caspian Gates all of this is coming at you from the off, with the delightful Goths giving our civilised heroes headaches of a viciously literal kind. Ballista has to face these murderous bastards, as well as deal with plots and intrigues, but manages to keep a manly hold even when the fan's clogged with the sticky stuff. The tale takes us over land and sea with a pace that switches from brisk to high heart-rate quickly and often enough to make you glad you fitted low-energy lightbulbs.

If there's a fault in the book it's, well, arguably not a fault: It's just that sometimes I was getting a shade too much Latin detail in places, stuff I didn't really need to enjoy the story. It can sometimes act as a bit of a sea anchor on yarns this exciting.

That said, I think Harry's cut from the same cloth as Conn Iggulden, up there with the best of them. Certainly his word-smithery is on a par, and Warrior of Rome is at least the equal of the Emperor series, in my view. I've tucked first editions of both into my collection. Between Conn and Harry a man can head off to the fictional wars of history and never have to come home. Or want to, for that matter.

The Caspian Gates is a winner, like all the best heroes!
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on 26 July 2011
The fourth Warrior of Rome novel begins with a bang as Ephesus is struck by a mighty earthquake. Not long after the Goths invade and Ballista is involved in the defence of a number of nearby poorly prepared cities. Yet Ballista's past is swift to catch up with him and his new Imperial Mandata sends him to the very edge of the Empire. Confronted with barbarian hordes, a rotten royal family and complex tribal politics, life for Ballista in the fourth book is quite eventful.

As ever the book oozes with detail, historical intricacies and subtle semantics. Yet I found the fourth book to be somewhat slower paced than the previous three. That was probably because the overall theme of the fourth book could be summed up as `travel'. Ballista spends an awful long time travelling to one of the furthest reaches of the Empire. It was therefore necessary for the author to fully describe Ballista's journey in order to give the reader a sense of the scale and monotony that Ballista endured. That being said, the travel passages are beautifully described, you really feel like you are stood on deck with the rest of the familia. In addition, these important plot building passages are not devoid of the occasional action scene.

There are a couple of new characters within the fourth book which inject fresh energy and charisma. Yet all of the old favourites accompany Ballista on his journey. It enabled that sense of family and camaraderie to flourish within the fourth book as it has done in the past three. I love the fact that the author takes his time to build his characters throughout the books. It's such a great and simple technique which allows the reader to remain engaged with the characters as the series progresses. By learning more about a character slowly, relationships strengthen and that shared sense of experience endures throughout each new book. Great stuff!

I think for me, Harry Sidebottom's unique selling point is his craftsmanship and the way his books are immersed in authenticity. Don't expect a simple read with this author and you won't be disappointed. Instead, allow yourself the time to fully enjoy this beautifully written Roman novel which really is head and shoulders above other Roman contenders. I think you'll find the descriptive prose some of the author's finest work in his fourth book.

The fourth book creates a fantastic foundation on which the fifth can be built. The end of the book was for me, one of the very best endings to a historical novel that I have yet read. Completely chilling, but very simple! I'll say no more.

Thoroughly recommended and thoroughly enjoyed by this reviewer!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 July 2011
So many times i have read reviews for Harry that say..."too detailed".."Too much like a text book" etc...
I have no idea what book it is these people are reading!

While Harry Sidebottom is not your typical swords and sandals writer, his books are full of action pace, great characters and a plot that leaves the reader begging for more.

I struggled to put the book down, had to force it closed at 2am etc.. that for me is the sign of an excellent book.

Ballisata could have been used as a character and kept in the confines of the empire for some more of what we have seen from others, but Harry sidebottom has taken the risk to take him away from the confines of the empire,a nd its life on the fringe of the empire that gives this series its power and energy.

Not only did this book thrill and entertain, but at the end it sets the reader up for the next book, and I'm looking forward to Book 5 so much more than any of the previous 4, for me that shows the improvements this series and this author have shown with each book.

Roll on Book 5 (2 a year Harry???)

Highly recommended

(Parm)

Product Description: (From Back of Book)

Product Description
AD262 - the Imperium is in turmoil after the struggle for the throne. Furthermore, Ephesus, Asia's metropolis, lies in ruins, shattered by a mighty earthquake. Its citizens live in fear as the mob overwhelms the city, baying for blood to avenge the gods who have punished them.

Yet an even greater threat to the Empire advances from the North. The barbaric Goth tribes sail towards Ephesus, determined to pillage the city. Only Ballista, Warrior of Rome, knows the ways of the barbarians, and only he can defeat them.

The Goths' appetite for brutality and destruction is limitless and before long Ballista is locked into a deadly bloodfeud, with an enemy that has sworn to destroy him - and the Imperium - at all costs.
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The end of the last book left me a bit surprised. Historically speaking Ballista is supposed to end up dead, probably at Odenathius' hands. The story of him becoming emperor only shows up in the Historia Augusta and even there he dies soon after. Having a barbarian Angle become emperor of the Romans, even if only for a few hours, is ridiculous. If Sidebottom had kept him a pure Roman or dropped the raising to the purple it would be fine. But even at the end the Romans weren't raising barbarians to the throne (only one I can think of is Silvanus in mid-4th Century and he died right quick). I wouldn't really get annoyed at this, but Sidebottom puts such effort into maintaining accuracy throughout that it seems surprising that he'd change so much. I really hope this wasn't done just so he could make a sequel. It wasn't worth it.

While I don't think this book is as bad as many others say, it is certainly a far cry from his previous books. The biggest problem is in structure and content. The first half of the book is irrelevant. You could skip it entirely and not miss anything. Ballista is waiting for Gallienus' response to his actions, and then he takes it upon himself to defend western Asia Minor from the Goths. This means that he starts in Ephesus, goes to Miletus, and then on to Didyma. At each location he fights a battle with the Goths, then leaves. This is repetitive and has no bearing on the main plot. Even more redundant are the chapters following Gallienus. They are irrelevant to the main plot since all that matters is what he's going to do with Ballista. Nonetheless this is dragged out for a whole half the book before it is resolved. It's not even as if Gallienus is debating it the whole time either. He's doing other stuff, with Ballista only mentioned rarely. And then in the end when he does decide it happens offscreen anyway and you only hear about it afterwards. It's terrible storytelling and literally every other chapter is like this.

So when the 'plot' actually gets going Ballista gets sent off to the Caucuses to the Caspian Gates. Hence the name. As I said before, this doesn't start until halfway through the book and then most of the rest of it is spent with traveling. When he finally gets there many things happen in a very short period of time. None of it feels like it justified its own book.

As for the characters, they're mostly there. Demetrius has gone unfortunately, being replaced by Hippothous who is infinitely more useful and worldly and thus less interesting. He may not be a carbon copy of Demetrius, but he shares enough with him to make it clear that he fills Demetrius' hole. He is philosophical, somewhat stuck up, and instead of an obsession with auguries he has one with phrenology. That's the determination of someone's character based on their facial appearance in case you don't know. As you would expect Sidebottom uses this to wax a great deal on the subject, which really could have been left out without any problem. He seems to use the character in this position to poke fun at the crazy stuff that the Romans believed, but he gets too involved in it to make it funny or poignant. Hippothous is also gay, further emphasizing the Demetrius connection.

Actually, losing Demetrius makes me kinda annoyed since he pulled the same thing with Turpio and a similar thing with Mamurra in the first book. He sets them up as having a big secret to tell and then he kills them off or sends them to the other side of the globe without revealing it. He also has Ballista and his wife keeping a big secret from each other, and while this may be resolved in future books it seems quite possible that it will remain unspoken forever. Much to everyone's annoyance. I'm not sure if this is thrown in there for realism or not since not everyone with a secret will reveal it, but these are all point of view characters at one point or another. The only reason we know they have a secret is because they told us they did. It's pretty cheap to do that if you never intend to resolve it.
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on 25 July 2011
I have come to view these high brow historical epics from Harry Sidebottom as a bit of an annual event now. The need to flick constantly to the back of the book for latin translations or as I tend to do after about page ten just guess what the hell 'cinaedus' etc are, still irritates me no end but as this is now book 4 and he's still doing it I may as well concede defeat.

Anyway I have scored this four stars because it is too good to only score 3 but I would qualify this by saying this was my least favourite of the four Ballista books. I thought it lacked an actual story till about the last third when Ballista arrives at the Caspian Gates though the preceding ongoing skirmishes with the Goths was not without it's entertainment. But it did just have a bit of an aimless/ random feel which is always a bit of a risk when writing 'realistic' and gritty historical fiction. Also did the eunuch have to be called Mastabates!? I had to battle with my infantile need to giggle every time he was mentioned! Mind you there is at times a lovely tongue in cheek quality to these books so that was probably the authors intent! Still distracting!

However as ever there was much to enjoy. A rich and authentic feeling historical background. Likeable and real characters (so often missing in Sidebottoms competitors works) with great dialogue. Harry is also able to create some truly loathsome bad guys and a particularly unsavoury character who Ballista found himself 'on the wrong side of' a little while ago, makes a return here.

As I say a little short on story but themes here were exile, the further slipping of Romes power and the fragmentation of it's empire. Ballista remains a compelling central figure, noble but flawed, brave and skilled at arms but ageing and far from infallable, he is a hero I can believe in and sympathise with and with regard to the ageing, empathise too!

Perhaps a bit of a dip in form here but Sidebottom remains, with Robert Low at the front of the pack of historical fiction writers. (When will bookshops give it it's own section by the way?)
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on 14 October 2015
Another in the series that's page turning fun.

Explore new parts of the Barbaricum with Ballista and company. Lots of observations on ancient life through the eyes of the central characters to enjoy.

Plus some laugh out loud inventive swearing.
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on 18 January 2016
Another wonderful woven plot and completely absorbing read. The detail is amazing! This is the 4th. In this series, have read the 3 previous ones. All equally entertaining and very hard to put down.Cant wait to read them next one!!
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on 22 July 2015
This is the 4th book of the Warrior of Rome Series and it continues as from the previous book with the same central character and same basic plot - it is a successful formula and works. I've already ordered the next book!
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