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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Few authors can be better equipped to write about the history of ancient Greece and Rome than Valerio Massimo Manfredi. Professor of archaeology at the university of Milan, he has carried out many excavations and expeditions in the Mediterranean region. He has produced many factual books on historical matters, mainly military and has still found the time to write several novels and this is one of the best yet.

This book has a storyline that must surely be unique. It begins with the personal bodyguard of the Roman Emperor Publius Licinius Valerianus and their commander caught in a trap after Valerianus had agreed to meet his adversary, to negotiate peace and save the city of Edessa. However Marcus Metellus Aquila, legate of the Second Augusta Legion and his men manage to break free and find shelter at an oasis, where they meet a mysterious exiled prince. With nothing left for them, the Romans agree to become the prince's private militia and volunteer to guide him back to his homeland, China.

While they are there they see things that no other European has ever seen. They see cruelty, violence, but on the other side they see men of great intelligence and tolerance and beautiful women, unlike any of the women in Rome. But everything is at stake, even the very survival of the world's two greatest empires . . .
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 25 September 2007
I thought this book was a very good thriller. I agree with others' comments who say that you will not learn much from the book about ancient Rome and/or China but that does not detract from the overall very interesting hypothesis in the book or its enjoyability.

I enjoyed the way the author writes and the fact that the pace of the story is fast-moving; he avoids spending too long on any given section of the book and his descriptive passages are just long enough to paint a good mental picture without becoming long and consequently boring.

I agree that there is little character development in the book except for the main protagonists but I don't see how the smaller characters could be better developed in the space available. Also I think the first half of the book was slightly better, but the author is more knowledgeable about ancient Rome than ancient China so perhaps this is only to be expected.

Will definitely be reading more books by this author.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 17 July 2006
I brought this book because I was so found of the alexander series written by Valerio Massimo Manfredi and the Roman era it is set in. It isn't really historical fiction as all the characters are fictional, but it does its best to capture the essence of the period its set in to begin with.

However it soon loses this because as the story progresses the location changes from Rome to China. The story is about a commander in the Roman army who is captured, he escapes with his men to find that he must go to the ends of the earth before he can even think about returning. He finds that in even such far away place as China there are disturbing parallels between his world and theirs and that he must fight for the same cause that he left at home.

The book moves fast through just under 400 pages and doesn't linger on events for more than a chapter or so. There is little character development, except for that of Dan Qing, the Chinese prince and Metellus, The Roman Commander, and this only develops near the end of the book. I enjoyed the story and thought it was a new approach to the genre. It reminded me a little of the story of the last Samurai.

The book needed more depth and seemed rushed, especially the "last battle" which seems rather anti-climatic. The language and structure isn't very advanced and some is rather cringeworthy but you get use to it and don't notice it as the story progresses. However I did feel that the end was satisfying and leads up to a sequel oppurtunity which I would also give a chance and read.

So don't be put off by bad reviews if you like a light read with an intriguing and different story line, then give the empire of dragons a chance.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 14 December 2006
The idea of a novel exploring an encounter between Rome and China - the two great Empire of the classical world - is a fasncinating one. As the author says, there is evidence of a certain small amount of contact between them and there is almost certainly a place and a market for a 'what if' novel along the lines of Kim Stanley Robinson's "Years of Rice and Salt". However: you should be aware that this is not it.

It starts excellently; the author knows his Roman history and there is a clear sense of time and place in the adventures of a group of Legionnaires captured by the Persians with Emperor Valerian at Edessa in 260AD. This, however, takes more than the first half of the book, as the soldiers are condemned to slavery, escape and end up hooking up with a lost Prince of China. Whereas the first half of the book is a well-studied and interesting piece of writing, when we finally arrive in China we're suddenly in a high-kicking chop-socky spectacular.

The clash of styles is jarring.

The most awful thing is that much of the second half of the book appears to be written with half an eye to the movie rights. As you read, you can hear Hollywood script agents saying "It's high-concept! It's Roman Legions versus Wire-fu Ninjas! It's Gladiator meets Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon!" As an action film, I can see the value - the cash tills will be ringing. As a novel, it jars and doesn't convince. Used as we are to the uncompromising professionalism and stolidity of the Romans, the sudden arrival of (literally) superpowered ninja in a quasi-historical novel breaks suspension of disbelief. It's rare I put a book down without finishing it, but 60 pages from the end I had to make a conscious effort to read the painful deus-ex-machina conclusion.

I'm giving the book three stars because the first half is a good read. The second half is an unconvincing pitch to Hollywood with lead characters plainly modelled in the hope that Jet Li and Zhang Ziyi will be playing them. I like both historical epics and ludicrous kung-fu action adventures - I'm just not sure that they belong in the same book.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 8 February 2006
I think that you will like this book if you enjoyed The Last Legion. The writing is similar. One thing that I enjoyed about it was that it focused on events that have not been done to death. Instead of yet another book on Attila or Nero, here we have a book that takes place at the end of the reign of Valerian and also during Gallienus's rule. After Valerian and some of his soldiers are captured they are forced to work in a mine. After the soldiers escape, they travel across Persia and India, eventually winding up in China. Personally, I enjoyed the book before they got to China. I took off one star for the ninja stuff, which got a little ridiculous. I could see a sequal to this novel taking us into the time of Aurelian, who is also a character in this book.
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on 16 August 2011
This is a worthy attempt to construct a novel around a well known but unproven mystery of the ancient world whereby roman soldiers settled in the western part of China. The initial parts of the story are a well driven narrative. The concept of the paths to China via Persia and India are intriguing.

In the middle of the book the story becomes drawn into the complexities of Chinese politics and secret societies which is necessary to the ending but are distracting. However the ending itself is good and the novel captures the spirit of the subject matter in a satisfactory way.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 23 November 2006
This is my first Valerio Massimo Manfredi novel so I come in without the baggage of having read the Alexander series (although I will seek it out now) but I do understand he comes with an impressive CV. A professor of classical archaeology and a man who has published a number of other fiction novels so I was expecting a lot. To be fair it delivers - in part - but given this mans reputation I was expecting more.

Marcus Metellus Aquila is a Roman General and hero of the masses. He is fiercely loyal to those around him but a formidable warrior to those that oppose him. Forces are at large in the Roman empire of Anatolia though and the Roman Emperor Publius Licinius Valereianus is seeking peace with his Persian counterpart and agrees to a meeting. Metellus accompanies him on this meeting but it is a trap, the men guarding the emperor, and indeed the emperor himself are captured and forced to endure great hardships at this cruel leader's instruction. Metellus and his men escape but far tougher hardships await them...

The first half of the book is dedicated to this event and I feel is wonderfully well handled, the emotions of the Romans (specifically Metellus) and his guide Axel is complete and detailed, this for me shows the authors Italian origins as he deals with this far better than the caricatured Chinese who you could happily believe are straight out of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The book undoubtedly goes down hill with the introduction of Dan Qing but don't discount the book because of this as you will be missing out on a rich tapestry of backgrounds and locations but I will also concur with the other reviews that the character development outside of the main characters is very poor which is a real shame.

Overall it could have been 10 times better but it isn't a bad book in its own right. What makes it bad is the feeling of what it could have been.
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on 11 September 2014
Mr Manfredi has done it again. I've read many of his previous books and thoroughly enjoyed the read. However this time Manfredi has exceeded his own boundaries. This in my opinion is so far his best novel. A journey that starts in the confines of Rome, is taken into the heart of mighty Persia and then into the mysterious lands of China. A story of hardship, struggle and of the revival of a lost cause. What else can you ask for?
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 9 October 2006
Half of the novel is readable, so it gets 2.0 stars. The other 1 to the idea and imagination of combining the two empires, which is the reason I bought and read the novel.

Generally speaking, it is a story similar to most of the holliwood movies. Though I, as a Chinese, expected some difference from an author with his profession. Normally, a novel placed itself in a big historical background, would be authentic at least in this background, which maybe the case for the Rome empire but for sure not China.

Would a Rome soldier claim he is from Italy? Maybe? But a prince from country Han ,or Wei would not say he is from Zhong Guo. Lao zi is the founder of idea of 'Tao', not Kong Fuzi. Sounds like Greeks of Jupit religion together with Christ founded the Christian religion. Huang-di is the title of an empiror, all the empirors, (or sons of the heaven) are called Huang-di. The first who decided to use the title for the empiror burnt the books and killed the thinkers. His name is not Huang-di. However, there is a ruler named Huang-di, who was a legendary empire and appeared hundreds years ealier. When we Chinese call ourselves the descendants of 'Yan' and 'Huang', the 'Huang' referred to Huang-di. I would not mention this if the author not claiming that he had Huang-di to be an authentic person. These are the few of the points set me laughing when I am reading. Not to mention the whole plot in China was nothing more than copying those several movies mentioned by the other reviewer.
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on 8 January 2014
Certainly not a literary classic but an extremely enjoyable read, great story line and easy to immerse yourself without having to read loads of descriptive narrative. Have purchased a few Manfredi books and this is my favourite. Have re-read this numerous times and still found myself enjoying it each time.
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