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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top notch
Regardless of whether this book is cheap or expensive, the purpose of this review is to try to explain why I believe it is worth five stars. As far as I am concerned, it ticks all my boxes, with a couple of original touches added to the mix. These gave me the impression that the author may even have enjoyed writing his book. For a piece of historical fiction like this...
Published 16 months ago by JPS

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sunk By Weight of Its Glossary
I suspect we have reached the end of the line with the Ballista novels. I hate to say this because I greatly enjoyed the earlier novels but 'The Amber Road' feels tired with the weakest plot of any in the series. Ballista has become a two dimensional character and in fact the only vibrant character in the book is Maximus, his loyal friend. To be fair you can argue all...
Published 1 month ago by Iraklis Koumoullos


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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top notch, 25 July 2013
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JPS - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Warrior of Rome: The Amber Road (Warrior of Rome 6) (Hardcover)
Regardless of whether this book is cheap or expensive, the purpose of this review is to try to explain why I believe it is worth five stars. As far as I am concerned, it ticks all my boxes, with a couple of original touches added to the mix. These gave me the impression that the author may even have enjoyed writing his book. For a piece of historical fiction like this one, there are at least three and possibly even five such "boxes" to tick for me to "love it", to use Amazon terminology for a five-star rating.

First, there is the historical context. The story takes place in AD 264, within one of the less well-known periods of the Roman Empire sometimes called "the Third Century Crisis" and as the Empire is torn by multiple usurpations, civil wars and invasions from Germanic Barbarians by land and sea all along the Rhine and the Danube. A few years before, Britain, Gaul and Spain had seceded, with Posthumus, a Batavian general, having been proclaimed Emperor. Odenathus, Lord of Palmyra, controls the Eastern part after having defeated the Persians. At least officially and for the time being, he acts there as the viceroy of Emperor Gallienus who still controls the central part of the Empire. The latter has been facing one crisis after another (and, at times, several almost simultaneously) for most of his reign which starting in AD 253.

Unsurprisingly, since the author is also an accomplished historian, the historical context is very well presented, with summaries of previous events (both those that took place in previous volumes and events that have not been described in detail) being summarized through the reflections of some of the main characters. This include Gallienus and Posthumus, but also Ballista/Derhelm, the Angle prince hostage of the Romans, brought up with Gallienus and trained as a Roman general, but currently out of favour with the suspicious Emperor. The latter has been planning to attack Posthumus, reconquer the lost Western Provinces, and avenge the killing of his infant son by the usurper. To help this plan, and draw the Angles back into an alliance with him, he sends Ballista with an embassy back to them along the "Amber Road" through what are now Ukraine, Russia and Poland.

The depiction of the realm of the Angles in the far north, way beyond the frontiers of the Imperium, is where Harry Sidebottom starts mixing history with fiction. As he acknowledges in his (rather superb) historical note, we know next to nothing about most of the Germanic tribes and confederations of the Third century that were not in direct contact with the Roman frontier. In particular, we do not know much about who was controlling what area around what is now Northern Germany, Northern Poland, Scandinavia and the coasts of the Baltic Sea. So the author sets out into making the Angles into the powerful overlords of a vast confederation dominating the region, and very similar to the Danes. As a result, both those liking "swords and sandals" novels and those liking sombre "Viking and Saxon type" ones will find this book to be a treat. For the latter, there are even a couple of scenes that seem to have been inspired by the adventures of Ahmahd ibn Fahdalan (remember the 13th warrior by John McTierman, with Antonio Banderas in the role of the Arab ambassador?).

Moreover, and as the author alludes to in his note, while fictitious, the Angles domination in the North, and its contacts and involvement with the Roman Empire are not entirely implausible. By the time the action takes place, Germanic tribes had been coalescing into larger and more powerful confederation for over a century and a half. Moreover, archaeological findings over the last two to three decades have shown that the warrior-like Germanic tribes and confederations were far less "barbaric" than previously believed. Given the amounts of Roman weaponry and coins found, even those in what is now modern Denmark and Scandinavia were clearly in contact with the Empire, whether through trade, or, perhaps more likely through sea-borne raids and by taking service as soldiers within the Empire. The novel abundantly shows them in both roles. It also shows very well (and for the Goths just as much as for the Angles) why the Roman Army would both appreciate such recruits and how dangerous they could be, especially with their wedge assault formations combined with their warrior ethos.

Another nice touch is the book's prologue. Not only is it suitably griping - the reader get his first dose of "action" almost immediately as a large raiding party of Angles gets caught by the Romans before they manage to make back to their ships with their loot and captives - but it also makes the point that sea-raiding was already a significant threat all along the coasts of Northern Gaul and Britain in the third century. With the Angles and all the other tribes (Franks, Saxons, Jutes, Frisians etc..;) carrying out sea-borne raids in their "longships" and sailing back in the Baltic, the author makes the point that there is no real reason for the Germanic tribes to have been incapable of sailing before the seventh or eighth century AD. This had been the long-held view shared by many historians up to quite recently.

As usual, on this point, as on many others, the author provides his readers with numerous tips for those interested in further read on the various topics he covers. He also includes maps and glossaries for both the main terms and places and for the main characters in the story.

The characters seem to be one of the areas where the author had some fun when writing. Those familiar with the Emperors that reigned after Gallienus and Posthumus will see that just about all of them make some kind of appearance in the book, whether fleeting or as secondary characters. The most obvious one is one young Pannonian centurion called Diocles (the future Diocletian) who is part of Ballista's embassy to the far North. At one point, Ballista, his Hibernian bodyguard (Maximus) and Diocles discuss the future of the Empire, agree that, ideally, a Tetrarchy would be the best combination to cover and defend all frontiers, before the Hibernian concludes in his rather blunt, rude and flippant way that it would not last for long. Apart from that, another set of characters that the author seems to have found amusing were the pompous Greek courtier and the eunuch, both part of the embassy and both totally at a loss and quite ridiculous in the rough, tough Far North.

Then there is the plot, on which I will not write much to avoid any spoilers. It is not exactly original. The story is hardly unpredictable, although it is both well executed and well told. With regards to battles and fights, you get plenty of both, described in a very realistic way. The heroes (and everyone else for that matter) are human, and therefore afraid before every fight, however battle-hardened they may be. Ballista, and Maximus to a lesser extent, and as has been the case in the previous episode, get battered and bashed about, however successful they might end up by being. Ballista's family problems take a whole new dimension as you get to meet the old warlord and King of the Angles (whose title is "Theoden", meaning King in old English, but also a character of the Lord of the Ring).

I could, perhaps, come up with a couple of quibbles (Romans "shaking hands", in one instance), but only found a few (a couple of others). It would be rather petty to mention them, and quite unnecessary since they are so minor and do not distract this book from being a superb read. The whole construct is very enjoyable and, as you may have guessed, I read it within twenty four hours (and I was NOT on holiday), found it totally impossible to put down, and finished it at two in the morning. As a result, it was a bit tough getting to work this morning and I am not sure this had been my most productive day in the year! So be warned: it's that kind of book.

Given all this, it is easily worth five stars. Finally, and for those who seem to be concerned about price, and believe they may be taken for a ride, it is definitely a bargain, by the way!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read., 9 Dec 2013
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This review is from: Warrior of Rome: The Amber Road (Warrior of Rome 6) (Hardcover)
Once again Harry Sidebottom displays his in depth knowledge of the turbulent third century A.D. when the Roman Empire was on the verge of collapse. The authors descriptive powers are second to none, the characters' especially Ballista three dimensional.

Some reviewers have stated that the author over indulges by describing in too much detail the geopolitical situation, for me it only enhances the narrative,and increases my interest.

I won't bother with the general description of the narrative as there are some excellent reviews already posted. Suffice it to say I thought the Amber road overall was well written, with a good plot, albeit not on the same level as his earlier works, but still a very enjoyable read.
The perfect companion to this excellent series is the ROMA VICTRIX wine beaker.Calix Imperium, Roma Victrix Pewter wine beaker

For those who would like further information on this epoch I highly recommend the OSPREY Campaign, Warrior, and men at arms booklets, with great overviews, excellent illustrations, and highly detailed maps.
.
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4.0 out of 5 stars In tune, 18 Aug 2014
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This Author writes some of his best books about his hero and his friends, strange that I am having difficulty with his new book about the days of rust etc when the scenario is in North Africa,and with presumably another hero altogether. Have to say that so far have not found another author that I enjoy their efforts as much when it comes to Rome, though I did enjoy the book about the defence by the Spartans and their allies of the Hot Gates( Thermopylae. It's authors follow up book did not match his first book however, which is not to be said about Harry, apart from this new series Rust which appears a little lacklustre.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No amber gambler here, a sure thing!, 30 July 2014
By 
Mr. Peter Franklin "Pedro" (Cumbria, England) - See all my reviews
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I have to say that I enjoyed this book as much as all the others in this excellent series. Yet again it not only strives, but succeeds in entertaining royally and widening the reader's knowledge. The hero, Ballista is a little older and perhaps more vulnerable. He not only has his own problems in his camp to deal with, but the infighting and jealousies of his siblings to contend with. All this in the far northern Europe of antiquity, a place where any of the local peoples would as soon slice you up with a sword or drown you in a bog under a hurdle as welcome you as a friend and ally.

I really cannot fault it. Should I have one criticism, it's that inevitably the strange names, whether they be place names or names of peoples or tribes, to a greater or lesser degree will be unknown to the reader. All is revealed at the end of the book of course where you can look them up. Not too much of a problem with an actual physical book, but somewhat frustrating with the Kindle edition. Perhaps something that those responsible for Kindle software could address. This is not a criticism of this excellent book, or indeed Harry Sidebottom though, I hasten to add.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars very good - in particular the end, 27 Aug 2014
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Slow start but picks up nicely. References to actual geographical locations would have been nice. Looking forward to the next Ballista book
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good story- fascinating topic, 7 Aug 2013
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"The Amber Road" is the 6th title in Harry Sidebottom's "Warrior of Rome" series. it is set in the middle of the third century when the Roman empire was faced by invasion from without and mutinies leading to instability at the top, with Emperors coming and going with bewildering speed. Our hero Ballista, an Angle prince who was sent to Rome as a hostage and has risen to great prominence, is sent on a mission to his birthplace to win their support in the struggle of rival emperors. he faces danger from the Goths who have a blood feud with him, and he is hardly welcome in his old home where times have changed and new men have arisen. Sidebottom has improved as a writer as the series goes on. His characters are believable and multi-faceted. his prose can be a little pedestrian at times, but his description of places, people and things are a testimony to well researched material, thoughtfully presented. As a lover of Ancient History I find the story fascinating and the plot well worked. I await book 7 eagerly.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Warrior of Rome: The Amber Road, 5 April 2014
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This review is from: Warrior of Rome: The Amber Road (Warrior of Rome 6) (Hardcover)
An excellent book based in the late Roman period. The main character of the book Ballista must travel back to his roots in Northern Europe,along with his trusted friends.Entrusted with a mission from his Emperor; Gallienus, to secure the northern tribes backing as he tries to win back his fractured Empire. The adventures of Ballista and Company are so well done you can almost smell the musty reed beds, and feel the biting midges. The battles as always puts you there,in amongst the frontline. All in all a cracking read. This series of books just gets better and better
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sunk By Weight of Its Glossary, 25 Sep 2014
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This review is from: Warrior of Rome: The Amber Road (Warrior of Rome 6) (Hardcover)
I suspect we have reached the end of the line with the Ballista novels. I hate to say this because I greatly enjoyed the earlier novels but 'The Amber Road' feels tired with the weakest plot of any in the series. Ballista has become a two dimensional character and in fact the only vibrant character in the book is Maximus, his loyal friend. To be fair you can argue all these subjective points but what you cannot dispute is the growing use by Sidebottom of Latin terms on almost every page; fine if you know Latin but, if like me you don't, then you have no option but to refer to the glossary at the back of the book. To read a novel of 350 pages - in paperback - and have to flick back to the glossary from almost every page is extremely annoying. After all, this is a novel and not a text book. 'The Caspian Gates' was longer and had a glossary of 26 pages while this one is shorter but has a glossary of 52 pages. It ruined the flow of the book. Maybe a little revision is in order for the author: reading Steven Saylor or Robert Harris will illustrate how to strike the right balance. So would I recommend this novel? Alas no, but I would the first four in the series wholeheartedly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good read., 4 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Warrior of Rome: The Amber Road (Warrior of Rome 6) (Hardcover)
Could not put the book down. Very good read.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Historical field trip, 20 Aug 2013
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Mr. S. Roberts "Simon" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Warrior of Rome: The Amber Road (Warrior of Rome 6) (Hardcover)
I love historical fiction and this book along with most of the series is among the best there is. What I love the most about the whole series is the geography. I'm never likely to sail up the Dnieper river even in the 21st Century but to read about it being travelled along in the 2nd is wonderful. I also really liked reading about pre Viking Scandinavia in this tome.
Its a shame that its not in French as my friends would love to read it.
Its also a shame that some people are using this book review section to have a go at Amazon pricing in Kindle and not commenting on the book.
When is the next one Harry?
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Warrior of Rome: The Amber Road (Warrior of Rome 6)
Warrior of Rome: The Amber Road (Warrior of Rome 6) by Harry Sidebottom (Hardcover - 18 July 2013)
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