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Francis Hagan "The Nowhere Legion" (Glasgow)

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Station Eleven
Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

5.0 out of 5 stars An Elegy and a Celebration., 29 July 2015
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This review is from: Station Eleven (Paperback)
I purchased this after stumbling across it by chance and found it to be a soulful meditation on memory and loss and beauty. Whilst the narrative moves from the pre-Fall period to the post-Fall period, it connects all these moments via a different characters and moments in their lives which resonate like ripples. Objects, themes, and images collide in a prose which is subtle and light. This is a post-apocalyptic novel which eschews the usual tropes and allows the reader to feel the loss of a world in all its weight while also celebrating hope without being too melodramatic or maudlin in the process. Thoroughly recommended!


Römische Militärgeschichte: Rekonstruktionsversuch einer römischen Truppenliste des sechsten Jahrhunderts (German Edition)
Römische Militärgeschichte: Rekonstruktionsversuch einer römischen Truppenliste des sechsten Jahrhunderts (German Edition)
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly and Informative., 13 July 2015
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I have been following the research of this book with deep interest for awhile now and can only praise the detail and the exhaustive work which has gone into it. If you are at all interested in the later Roman developments of the civil and military structures up to in including the Justinian reconquest of Italy, Africa and parts of Spain, then this is a must-buy. Yes, it is in German, but if you are at all versed in the titles and commands of the Later Roman Empire, then this work will be understood in its broadest sense. The author is meticulous and exhaustive in his analysis of the source materials and this book is a serious contribution to our understanding of the development of Roman hierarchies and titles across the civilian​ and military grades. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone studying this period.


Eagles in the Dust: The Roman Defeat at Adrianopolis AD 378
Eagles in the Dust: The Roman Defeat at Adrianopolis AD 378
by Adrian Coombs-Hoar
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.58

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterful Account of an Iconic Battle., 15 Feb. 2015
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Adrian Coombs-Hoar's book about the disastrous events leading up to the battle of Adrianople falls firmly into what I would call narrative history. As such, it sits alongside such companion books as Alessandro Barbero's 'The Day of the Barbarians' and Simon MacDowall's 'Adrianople AD 378', among others. It presents an exhaustive account of the events and the main characters in them while also posing questions and investigating over-looked evidence to shed new light or perspectives on the battle itself.

One of the many maddening aspects about this battle is both how iconic it is in terms of Late Roman history while also itself being described by a well-versed historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, who at critical moments elides key pieces of description. The result is that the course of the battle itself remains obscure at certain points, e.g. why were the Roman guard cavalry units apparently skirmishing out of hand while a key envoy was being escorted over to the Gothic laager to broker a treaty, when exactly did the Gothic cavalry appear and how, and also why was the emperor, Valens, abandoned by his guard units who presumably fled the field? These and many other questions remain unanswered in Marcellinus' work. The result is that the battle has been held up by many subsequent historians as heralding the end of the mighty legions and indeed, paradoxically, the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West.

The strength of Coombs-Hoar's work is the unrivalled groundwork he prepares in leading up to the day of the battle. Events and characters are examined in detail from afar afield as Britannia and Persia to create an exhaustive background to Adrianople and Valens himself. The history of the Goths are detailed so that the reader is not left alone within a Romano-centric viewpoint. One of the great strengths of the book is in exploring how the tragedy of the battle was not just a Roman one but a Gothic one also - for, although the Goths emerged the victor on the field of battle (and ultimately went on to plunder Rome itself many years later), Coombs-Hoar makes a convincing case for the argument that neither side truly intended battle that day. Had the Goths and the Romans reached an accord, history would have turned out very different.

As for the day itself, the author takes up what detail there is and both works it into an understandable narrative while also asking key questions to do with the location, the march to the battle by the Romans, the formation of the Gothic laager, where the Gothic cavalry approached from, and how the Roman lines collapsed and in what order. There is much here that is to be lauded for while many points can be questioned simply due to the lack of evidence, what makes this history so strong is how Coombs-Hoar brings all the disparate elements together into a narrative that seems pertinent and persuasive. He raises provocative questions about the location of the battlefield while also discussing the issue of the Romans leaving their field train back at Adrianople prior to marching through the hot August day to meet the Goths at their laager. In terms of a history dealing with that battle, this ranks higher in my opinion that Barbero's similar work by showing a more thorough grounding in the source histories and by asking critical questions Barbero shies away from.

The book also benefits from inclusion of all the major source histories - both narrative and ecclesiastical - which allows the reader to examine in detail the events of the battle as reported to contemporaries in the subsequent years.

To conclude, if you wish an insightful narrative into the battle of Adrianople which provides clear background detail while also examining key moments and the confusions surrounding them, this book should take pride of place upon your shelf.


War at the Edge of the World: Part One: The first eight chapters of the Twilight of Empire series, set in Roman Britain, AD 305.
War at the Edge of the World: Part One: The first eight chapters of the Twilight of Empire series, set in Roman Britain, AD 305.
Price: £1.79

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gritty and Realistic Adventure into the Later Roman Period, 5 Dec. 2014
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This is a review of the preview sample of the full novel to be released later in the New Year and as such all I can write about is the sample first 8 chapters. In those chapters, we are introduced to Castus whose past included a glorious battle against the Persians in Armenia but who languishes now in the damp backwater of Northern Britain. A sudden death and orders to March North past the Wall leads Castus and his century into the barbaricum. What follows is a tale of treachery and battle. Ross quickly and deftly creates a world of believable characters in which past glories mingles with the day to day drudgery of frontier life. His prose is economic and terse - moving the narrative along with speed and precision.

If the first 8 chapters are a portend of what the remaining novel will deliver then I am looking forward with anticipation to its full release. Ross is skilful in conjuring up a Rome long past the Imperial age of Trajan and Hadrian and which is now deep into a world of shifting values and beliefs. His knowledge is extensive but never overburdens the narrative with clumsy exposition or digressions. The writing is sparse and deft in its precision - conjuring up men and their fates.

If you are interested in Roman history and the legions, then I cannot recommend this book enough.


Legions in Crisis: The Transformation of the Roman Soldier - 192 to 284
Legions in Crisis: The Transformation of the Roman Soldier - 192 to 284
by Paul Elliot
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.90

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing and Detailed Account of a Difficult Period, 26 Jun. 2014
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Most histories of the Roman Army tend to focus on the transition from a fraught Republican period into the early Principate and Empire period, detailing the arms, service and organisation of the legions. A few also detail the much later Roman period after the reforms and expansions of Diocletian and Constantine which see the legions and those serving in them emerging onto a vastly different stage from the earlier period. Few works deal with the transition between these periods and with good reason: sources are poor, there are large blanks in the canvas, as it were, and the move from equipment and organisation seems so radical that it seems a daunting task to make sense of it.

Elliot's book covers the history of this crucial period and also details in a clear and concise manner why and how those changes materialised. He brings to bear a light yet authorial tone onto a dark and complex time and in doing so illuminates it in such a way that he is able to bridge these periods. There is a wealth of historical material and military research here yet he never allows it to overburden the narrative or obscure it so as to alienate the reader. The work strikes a nuanced balance between opening up an opaque period and providing enough insight into it to both inform a causal reader and also deepen the understanding of one already versed in this period.

In terms of structure, the work falls into three broad categories: a sustained historical narrative, a detailed examination of the equipment and weapons of the legionary in this transitional period, and, finally, an overview of the legionary himself, his service and conditions. Elliot is adapt at showing how all these elements impacted against each other and provides the reader with an engrossing read into how and why the Roman soldier changed from that classical image of the legionary we all see again and again in Hollywood into a much more 'dark age' or medieval image. He brings a wealth of personal experience into the narrative and is able to explain succinctly why certain weapons were adopted by the legionary and as a result is able to argue that rather than a radical or abrupt change in tactics and kit in fact the legions evolved and adapted as a continuing process.

In reading this, I was reminded of I P Stephenson's book: Roman Infantry Equipment: The Later Empire, which covers much the same period. There is a startling difference between the two - and while Stephenson's work may contain more factual information on the weapons and equipment, Elliot's work is far better at arguing why these elements changed, bringing, as he does, a vast personal experience to bear on what otherwise would be a dry or academic text. His discussion on the Roman spatha and hasta in relation to the move from a rectangular shield to an oval one is a prime example. Elliot is able to argue in a persuasive manner not only why the oval shield was adopted along with the long spear and the long sword, he is also able to explain how these tactical components fit together.

It is moments like this in the text that really make the period open up. If you are at all interested in the later Roman Empire and how it changed or evolved in the face of a crisis, then this book is a valuable and necessary addition to your library.


Wearing the Cloak: Dressing the Soldier in Roman Times (Ancient Textiles)
Wearing the Cloak: Dressing the Soldier in Roman Times (Ancient Textiles)
Price: £15.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and Informative, 17 Jun. 2014
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A useful overview of clothing, textiles, various production logistics in the Roman Army. This will be a valuable resource for anyone interested in re-enactment of the period or research generally.


The Birdskin Shoes
The Birdskin Shoes
by Joan Taylor-Rowan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling and Poignant, 11 April 2013
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This review is from: The Birdskin Shoes (Paperback)
I read this on the recommendation of an acting friend and was immediately capitvated both by the world Taylor-Rowan evokes and also the poetic language she uses. I read it over two days, devouring it at work and on the Glasgow Subway when I should have been researching instead. This is a novel which echoes Marquez and Carter and a little of Fuentes, too, but pulls you into a world all its own.

Here Joey Pachuca flees from a brutal Irish past and falls into a Mexico full of terror, poverty, redemption and magic where he runs and trips and dances along wires both real and imaginary. In this Mexico, Taylor-Rowan conjures up a marvellous panopoly of characters who inhabit slums and circuses and ships with all the mixture of the grotesque and the beautiful that makes the Mexican Day of Dead itself such a colorful and macabre pageant. I don't want to spoil the plot but it will keep you riveted - at the heart of this novel is a powerful ancient story of love and redemotion and while the language is giddy with beauty and imagery, the plot never devolves into cliche or caricature.

If you love the worlds of the rich South American writers (behind who stand always Borges and Bioy Cesares) then I cannot recommend this novel enough.


Legionary: Viper of the North (Legionary 2)
Legionary: Viper of the North (Legionary 2)
Price: £1.99

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and Heart-wrenching., 9 Sept. 2012
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This is the follow-up to Pavo's first adventures and follows those momentous events which saw the assembled Goths cross the Danube and break deep into the Roman Empire. As with Gordon Doherty's first 'Legionary' novel, the pace is expertly crafted and the events gripping and bloody. This second novel takes the reader into a larger canvas and ties together some of the plot lines laid down in the first excellent novel - while introducing new characters and fates. Again, as with the first novel, I can only commend Doherty's command of pace and plotting as he whisks a reader up and down the Danube lands either side of the river and deep into the heart of barbarian and Roman decisions. There is a bloody and epic quality to this story which gives the novel a poignant feel where both the Romans and the Goths become pawns in one man's hands. This makes that awful crossing of the Danube and the tragedy which follows painful to read and it is great to find a writer who is exploring that period rather than the usual late Republican or early Empire periods.

I can only commend Doherty's writing and thank him for writing in a period I love but which finds few writers willing to set their pen.


Legionary (Legionary 1)
Legionary (Legionary 1)
Price: £1.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Cracking Romp!, 9 Sept. 2012
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As a lover of all things to do with the Later Roman era, I downloaded Gordon Doherty's first book about Pavo with eagerness and was not disappointed. It is a cracking romp through the rough and turbulent period under the Augustus Valens where we follow young Pavo and his journey from slave into freedman and legionary recruit. The story is an old one but is given a fresh gloss by the setting and the action. Doherty builds up a supporting cast of characters who buttress Pavo so a reader is always given different perspectives around the main protagonist.

The story is both exciting and diverting in that is introduces the feared Huns along the Bosporus and takes the reader deep into an area not normally covered by writers in Roman fiction. What really sets the novel apart from others, however, is the pace of the narrative. Doherty has crafted a great tale told with precision and confidence which carries the reader along without let. It reminds me of the old novels I loved reading when I was younger written by Burroughs and Howard and has a wonderful pulp feel but which does not stint on research and detail. If you are looking for a well-told tale full of intrigue and battle - with a tense siege at the end and all sorts of climactic cliff-hangers - then read this novel and you will not be disappointed.

On a side note: any novel which references (if only in a small asides) my favourite legion - the Quinta Macedonica Legio - gets my vote.


The Sands of Carrhae (Ancient Rome Historical Fiction - A short story of Rome Book 2)
The Sands of Carrhae (Ancient Rome Historical Fiction - A short story of Rome Book 2)
Price: £1.08

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and Poignant, 19 Aug. 2012
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This is a short piece yet it is powerful and involving nonetheless. The action moves between Poppaea and her child in Rome and her husband Marcus marching with the eagles into Parthia. To those of you who know what happened at Carhhae no more needs to be written and for those of you who are unaware I won't reveal the details - but the conclusion is a tragic event which marks both lives.

For a short story, the author, Joseph Hunley, is able to pack in a lot of emotion and depth and I really cared about both Poppaea and Marcus. The writing is assured and flows well and it gives you a flavour of ancient Rome without wearing its erudition on its sleeve. For those of you who like Roman fiction, I would thoroughly recommend this story and my only regret is that it is not longer. I look forward to more from this author and hope that he embarks on a full-length novel as soon as possible. I for one will read it.


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