When I read Leopard Sword 6 months ago I was shocked at how much further Anthony Riches story telling depth had increased, his books have always been my favourite in terms of pace and sheer fun, but Leopard Sword took it further with twists and turns that had never been there before. Wolf's Gold keeps that improvement going and if possible squeaks past it in terms of great story telling.
I have to admit to several laugh out loud moments reading this book (and I would love to add one of the lines, but I don't want to spoil the fun for you all) my favourite concerns a beard and tickling (I laughed, and choked on my drink). It's this sheer fun and enjoyment that Tony brings to his readers as well as well thought out, well researched plot lines. Once again he is merciless with his characters, no one is safe, I was stunned by the casual death of someone who was a well established character, and how soon he was less than a memory. A chilling but honest way to portray how warriors must have been back then, how they must have been, to be able to cope with all the death around them. It's this kind of subtlety and attention to detail that puts Tony at the forefront of Historical Fiction writing , whilst still retaining his trademark writing ability that drags the reader along at breakneck spread from first page to last.
The back story of Marcus is added to in Wolf's Gold ti a greater degree than many of the other books in the series and in a very tantalising fashion, with hints of what happened, to who and by whom. Leaving many more questions, Will he go to Rome? if he does how can he retain his current position? Who will remain alive long enough to help him? (he is a dangerous man to be friends with). The scope of expansion for this series is mind bogglingly huge.
Another reason to buy this book and all of the series, is the way as each book is written Tony brings a more human element to more and more of the characters, to how we see more of each man, not just the fighter and his friends but how they've all grown from book to book, and how they have grown as a group.
I just hope that Tony can keep up the pace of writing and give me the next book in 6 months... I'm not sure I can wait much longer than that.
One of my favourite reads this year and Very Highly recommended (as is the whole series)
The Tungrian auxiliary cohorts march east to the land beyond the Danube to guard a frontier which turns out to be as dangerous and lawless as northern Britannia in Anthony Riches' suspenseful new Empire novel. Fresh from their victory in Germania, Marcus Aquila and the Tungrians have been sent to Dacia, on the north-eastern edge of the Roman Empire, with the mission to safeguard a major source of imperial power. The mines of Alburnus Major contain enough gold to pave the road to Rome.
They would make a mighty prize for the marauding Sarmatae tribesmen who threaten the province, and the outnumbered auxiliaries are entrusted with their safety in the face of a barbarian invasion. Beset by both the Sarmatian horde and more subtle threats offered by men who should be their comrades, the Tungrians must also come to terms with the danger posed by a new and unexpected enemy. They will have to fight to the death to save the honour of the empire - and their own skins.
on 25 October 2012
I've been a fan of Tony Riches since Corvus first put in an appearance in Wounds of Honour, and I'm always pleased to pick up an 'Empire' book.
I've done reviews of the others so far, and I would reference them in this review. The first three in the series I always considered very much a single story arc over three books. Moreover, they were staunchly and solidly novels of the Roman military.
Cue Tony's curveball: The Leopard Sword. The fourth book in the series was something of a departure in style, concentrating more on an ingenious plotline of intrigues and banditry than on the military campaigns we'd come to expect. Having read reviews and spoken to people since, I'm not sure how well-received the change was. I personally thought it was a triumph and a real growth in character, style and plot crafting.
Well The Wolf's Gold should be an all-pleaser as far as I can see. In one way, it's very much a return to a military-oriented plotline, with stretches of good solid campaigning in there, which should please the die-hard 'Military Riches' fans, and yet also involves a depth, ingenuity and intricacy of plot that has been born - in my opinion - from the style of Leopard Sword.
The plot to this masterpiece moves us once more. The first three books had us in Northern Britannia, and the fourth shifted the action to the forests of Germany, while in this one, the poor beleaguered Tungrian cohorts are sent to Dacia (modern Romania) into the Carpathian mountains to provide defence for the gold mines that are essential for imperial revenue. It is here that they will meet a number of interesting and often dubious characters and fall foul of plots and tricks that will once again have them fighting for their lives and have centurion Corvus creating crazy plans that have little chance of success.
As always with Tony's writing, he sacrifices just the tiniest modicum of uptight concern for anachronistic idiom (something more authors could do with trying) in favour of something that feels realistic and appropriate to the reader and creates a flow of text that's never interrupted.
And that's a big part of this book. From the very start it races away and takes the reader with it. The flow is just too easy to read and hard to put down. As usual there is a humour among the soldiers that borders on the tasteless at times, and feels thoroughly authenic (and also happens to make me laugh out loud) combined with a brutal combative narrative that pulls no punches and coats the reader with gore, all overlaid with a few saddening scenes and thoughts.
From the might of Sarmatian hordes and their perfidious nobles to the treachery of self-serving mine owners, the untrustworthiness of border troops, the mindless buffoonery of the upper class legionary Tribunes, the madness of battles on ice, and the heart-pounding stealthy infiltrations of installations by a few good men, Wolf's Gold should win on many levels and certainly does with me.
Moreover, this novel sees a significant advance in the overall arc of Corvus' history, his murdered family and the imperial intrigues that accompany it.
As a last aside, Tony is one of few writers of Roman fiction who rarely feels the need to name-drop, his characters almost always fictional and self-created, which I find refreshing and even when he does so, it is fascinating. In this case we are introduced to not one, but two, future attempted usurpers of Imperial power.
All in all, Wolf's Gold is a storming read, and Riches' best yet. I cannot wait to see what is going to follow in book 6 following the events of this.
I found that this book - volume 5 of the adventures of Marcus Aquila - was just as good as the previous episode. It very much shared the same qualities. There are however a few little twists that make it into something a bit different.
The first quality is that this book can be read on its own, just like The Leopard Sword, because it contains enough elements to inform the reader about most of the important developments that happened in the previous episodes. This is probably worth mentioning because it is not that frequent in series. It is, however, preferable to read the volumes one after the other.
Another "usual" ingredient found in Anthony Riches is the "barrack-speech" style and bantering that he uses (and sometimes perhaps over-uses) for his various Roman auxiliary heroes. In this respect, he is a bit of an "anti-Sidebottom". The latter will "treat" you to your lesson in Latin and Greek culture, with quotations of the classics liberally spread across the book. The former will treat you with the swearing, crude jokes and multiple biological and sexual references (all in modern English) that you can probably find among troopers in army around the world, both now and then. Regardless of your personal preferences, both devices are intended to engage the reader and make the story "feel" real. Both styles work rather well, as far as I am concerned, although, for both authors, there is always the risk of over-doing it and this can sometimes happen.
A related point is that whole story is largely built around dialogues, descriptions of places and battles and fights. The dialogues are frequently used to tell the reader what has happened in a more lively way, with the added benefit of making the story more "faced-paced" and also giving the reader the impression that the book is "action-packed". Another of Riches' devices that he typically uses to make the story feel and sound "real" is the interesting mixture he introduces with plots and intrigues, "workplace" rivalries between two senior officers coming from different backgrounds, arrogance and incompetence and the whole spectrum of feelings and behaviours that a reader somewhat expects to find in any human organization.
Then you have the historical research that backs up each of his books, including this one. While this might be less obvious than in Sidebottom's books, where it is very much on display (at the risk of annoying some readers), it is very much present. There were, for instance, very rich and productive gold mines in Dacia, as this was probably one of the main reasons for the Romans to attack and conquer the Dacian Kingdom in the first place, although this could make the border strategically more difficult to defend. There were also rivalries and tensions between Roman officers, especially between the professional centurions, prefects and equestrian tribunes on the one hand, and the amateur large stripe Tribunes and Legates who still came from the senatorial order at the time. At least initially, and despite holding the highest ranks, the amateurs from the senatorial class were at an obvious disadvantage. If they were intelligent and wanted to become competent, then they had to listen to, gain the respect of and become accepted by the professional officers and the men. One of the quickest ways to start doing so was to be seen as sharing the same fate and sufferings as them. For instance, that could mean marching with them on foot (at least part of the time) instead of riding on horseback as they were entitled to. This - the need for any officer to be accepted and respected by the men he commands - is also something that has not changed very much with modern armies.
Another of Riches' little twists in a similar vein is the song that the Auxiliary Tungrian cohorts are made to sing about the cavalry and what they do to their horses. Superficially, a reader may find it amusingly coarse, although this might be somehow missing the main point and purpose of "the exercise". The real reason is to keep the men from thinking about their sufferings and exhaustion so that they can cover the last few miles without giving up, therefore saving the men's lives and keeping the unit together. This kind of technique is still used nowadays, as the author seems to know very well.
The reign of Commodus (180-192) was also a reign of terror, as depicted in the book, and in which any senatorial family and any rich family more generally, could become the Emperor's target and/or the target of his henchmen. This was not new. It happened a number of times before under the reigns of Tiberius, with Sejanus in particular, and under Caligula and Nero. The practice went way back, with the proscriptions of Sylla under the Republic being an example. One of the motivations was to get hold of their wealth. Another one was to physically eliminate anyone who potentially could become the focus of an opposition. A third was to confiscate the assets of the wealthiest, possibly on trumped up charges of treason, and to redistribute them to your own henchmen and supporters. The three motivations were closely linked.
Another interesting feature in this volume is Riches' use of a technique we already saw hikm using in "the Leopard Sword" (and in previous volumes). While Marcus Aquila is still very much the hero of the story, he gets to share the "main role" in this episode with Scaurus. We learn quite a bit about the past of the latter character, his connection with a rather powerful general who we will certainly come across again and his ability at playing the politico-military game. In the previous episode, the "co-hero" was rather Frontius.
Finally, there are the "barbarians". Here again, there is more to it than meets the eye. What looks and feels like a bit of caricature at times ("good Romans versus bad Barbarians") is quite a bit more subtle once you scratch below the surface. Riches is in fact showing us the perspective and the biases of the Roman side. There are some notional "good Barbarians" (for instance the Tungrians and the cohorts of Britons) and these are the ones that fight alongside the Romans as allies or auxiliaries, essentially do as they are told and are likely, within time, to become entirely assimilated by the Empire. The others are, of course, the "bad barbarians", because they essentially refuse the Roman order and raid the Empire. The book also shows that, in practice, things tended to be rather more complicated and people could change sides, although I will stop there to avoid spoilers. One last comment is about the Sarmatians. Once again, Anthony Riches historical note is rather excellent and he is perfectly correct in alluding to the fact that the Sarmatians gave the Romans a very good run for their money. Their combination of heavy lance cavalry and horse archers was particularly dreaded by the Roman army and they would represent a major threat for the Romans for at least another two centuries after the events taking place in this book.
on 28 April 2013
Wolf's Gold is the fifth book in Anthony Riches's action packed Empire series. In his latest book, Riches takes our hero Centurion Marcus Corvus and his Tungrians away from their recent victory in Germania to the far reaches of the Empire. Their destination is Dacia on the north-eastern edge of the Empire, and their job is to protect an important gold mine that supplies the Imperial Treasury with tonnes of gold every day! The mine has come under threat from the Sarmatians, a rebellious tribe that lives in the area. The Sarmatians are a war-like people who are feared for their skills in archery and for the poisoned arrows they use against their enemies.
However, as Marcus and his fellow officers find out, the rebellion is not as straightforward as it seems, as the King of the Sarmatian horde, Asander is not as hostile to Rome as is first thought. However, he is a puppet for his hot headed brother-in-law Inarmaz, who is violently opposed to Roman rule in Dacia. Marcus and his Tribune, Scaurus work hard to have Inarmaz removed as a threat from the Sarmatian army. However, they soon find out that the temptation of gold is not easily quenched, as traitors from within their own ranks plot to seize the gold mine and steal all of the Emperor's gold, whilst setting their old comrades up to face a severe fight. The likes of which they haven't seen since Germania.
This was another great edition to Riches's Empire series. I liked the fact that the Tungrians were taken to another part of the Empire to fight new and interesting allies. I also liked the fact that Marcus's storyline is built on in this book, as he debates with himself if he should return to Rome to avenge his family's murder, or just try and move on with his new wife and son. It gives some insight to where the series is going to go in the next few books, which got me really excited to read the next novel!
I'd suggest this book to anyone who is a fan of other `Roman' novels and authors such as Ben Kane, Simon Scarrow, Conn Iggulden and Gordon Doherty. As a series, I'd highly suggest it to anyone who wants to get into Roman historical-fiction as it is a great series packed full of action, battles and great characters!
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on 25 October 2012
The Wolf's Gold is the fifth book in Anthony Riches Empire series.
The Tungrian Auxiliary cohorts are recovering after their hard fought victory in Germania. Hoping to be sent home they are disappointed to be sent to Dacia to help defend the Alburnus Major Gold mine from marauding Sarmatae tribesmen who are determined to capture an Empires gold supply.
In a desperate fight to the death, Tribune Scaurus will have to lead his cohorts with all the skill and experience he has, if the Tungrians are to survive the onslaught and see their homes again.
Centurion, Marcus Corvus and his fellow officers not only have to fortify and defend the mine but they also have to deal with truculent mine owners and a new commander who as a political appointment is more of a danger to his men than the enemy.
As the Tungrians Cohorts desperately fight for survival, Centurion Corvus will learn a secret that will open a window onto the men who ordered the death of his entire family but can he survive the battle to seek revenge on them?
Knowing that failure to secure the Mine will bring down the wrath of Emperor Commodos onto them, the men will fight to the death to save the mine and the province of Dacia.
With rampaging barbarians, dubious allies and an incompetent leader, the cohorts face their toughest battle yet.
I have always enjoyed Anthony Riches books (whisper it quietly but I didn't enjoy Leopards Sword as much!) and this book has to be his best book so far. The real joy of this book is the dialogue between the characters. It is so sharp and it flows so easily between the main characters and the banter is some of the best and funniest I have ever read. The infantry song about the cavalry had me spitting me drink all over my desk at work!
The main group of characters are now like old friends which makes reading about them so pleasurable and I like the way some of the group can fade into the background in one book and then be the main character in the next. An example is the use of Dubnus who is one of my favourite characters in the series but is hardly mentioned in this book.
In a year of great books this book has shot to the top of the leader board of my favourites! I really enjoyed it and got through it very quickly, which I always take as a sign of a good book. I don't think I could recommend this book enough. An absolute must for any Roman histfic fan!
This is Anthony Riches at his very best.
It'll come as no surprise to many that I'm a huge fan of the Empire series by Anthony, it has everything I want in a roman historical fiction story, you want hard fought battles against the odds with blood alongside glory, you got it, you want complex characters, you've got that as well, but back that up with some real twisted kick ass politics and the machinations of the roman red tape machine and you really get something spectacular.
Add to that an author who makes you feel that you're in the front line up to your neck in the brown stuff alongside the Tungarians and you know it's going to be an adventure that is not only hard to put down but one that will have you checking carefully if "faithful" friends have made it through.
Finally throw into the mix a hidden arc underneath of the deeper fate that Mithras has in store for our Centurion hero and all in you know damn well it's going to be a long wait for the next outing. Great stuff.
on 7 November 2013
Thoroughly enjoyed this story, as with all the others in the series, more because of the interaction between the main characters than anything else; they're all very believable, particularly as the speech is basically in modern parlance. If you like a good adventure, with likeable (and not-so-likeable) characters, blood-and-guts and will-they-won't-they survive (I'm not giving anything away!) all placed into a well described historical context, then read this.
I'd always been anti-Roman before reading about Marcus and his adventures (my sympathy was always with the natives!), but you can't help rooting for them from the outset. Compliments to the author for writing so well and getting me hooked!
This is a good stand-alone story so you don't need to read the previous books in the set, but you may just want to anyway after reading The Wolf's Gold ... Can't wait for the next to be available in paperback.
on 21 November 2012
Anthony Riches has continued his tale of Centurion Marcus in 'The Wolf's Gold', fifth book in the series. The first was epic and gripping enough to make the reader hunger for more and anticipate much in every forthcoming edition. The expansion of the principal characters continues, seeing them take on more 'major' roles within the narrative. The use of the character Gerewulf certainly produced an extra twist in the plot - well-done to the author. The concealment of Marcus at the extreme borders of the Roman Empire allows the author much leeway to explain the difficulties the empire was facing with respect to terrain, warlike races and transient tribes, who were certainly capable of 'besting' the Legions. All in all, a 'must-finish' book that has prepared the reader once more for further instalments.
I have been sucked into the story of Centurion 'Corvus' in the same way as Simon Scarrow's Cato.
This is another excellent addiotn to the story involving some serious double dealing and treachery in Dacia.
The battle scenes are a little (but only a little) less 'full on' as compared to the first four in the series but there is no denying the horror of this type of fighting
Its a well plotted story with the Romans facing down barbarians and traitors within their own side and it fair cracks along. One point is the dark humour through out the book which I would imagine is common to soldiers through the years
And as my title suggests this just felt too short - but leaves me waiting for the next installment where there is just a suggestion that a trip to Rome may be in the offing ..
on 13 May 2013
I must say I have very much enjoyed the series thus far and look forward to the next installment.
Having said that , I thought the bad guy (nice twist) in the last book 'The Leopard Sword' a bit on the 'James Bond villain' side of things and the conclusion to this book 'The Wolf's Gold' would be something that the Scooby gang would be proud of.
All in all thoroughly enjoyable books but less 'eyes rolling back so only the whites show' and less eyebrows,please :)
If you can only take so much Edward Gibbon in one go, then this is the perfect remedy.