Anthony Riches' Empire series is without doubt one of the most exhilarating and heart thumping of all Roman series being published at the moment and one of its many attractions is that there is no sign of it taking a rest. This month, the sixth Empire novel is published, The Eagle's Vengeance, and in it we see Marcus Valerius Aquila and his cohort of Tungrians return to the place where we first met them - Hadrian's Wall.
The Eagle's Vengeance would stand alone if you asked it to but as with most series I would recommend that you read the books in order, beginning with Wounds of Honour: v. 1 (Empire). You are at risk of discovering some of Aquila's previous story if you read on.
Set in the late 2nd century AD, the Tungrians arrive back at the Wall in a time of crisis. The barbarians have united, albeit in bad temper, and the forts of the more northern Antonine Wall have been abandoned. The Tungrians are despatched northwards, to a seemingly impregnable mountain fort surrounded by swamp where it is believed barbarians guard the eagle of the Sixth Legion alongside other disturbing relics from this slaughtered army. Rescuing the eagle, though, may be the least of the Tungrians' worries.
Each of the Empire novels is very different than others in the series. Not only have they moved around the empire, they have also focused on different elements of the Roman military world, whether it be the cavalry, bowmen or infantry, sieges or pitched battles, Roman soldiers or foreign auxiliaries. While you are absorbing all of this fascinating detail, you are being entertained by the continuing story of Marcus Valerius Aquila, or Two Knives, to evade the imperial forces that would see him as dead as his murdered family in Rome. In disguise, and now with a wife and son, he is still protected by his officers and men. After all this time, we have grown fond of them all - Dubnus, Julius, Arminius (my personal favourite) and Qadir, to name but a few. But as the cohort fights its way across the Empire - usually put in the position of greatest danger - life can be too short and there are no guarantees here that everyone will survive.
There is something very satisfying about the story of The Eagle's Vengeance. There are reminders of events and people from the earlier novels (especially the first three) and it allows the possibility of tying up some loose ends while continuing to work at the knots of the more deeply embedded mystery of why the emperor is intent on wiping Aquila's bloodline from the surface of the earth. This is a great mix and works very well.
Above all else, The Eagle's Vengeance is a fantastic adventure, packed full of intrigue, feats of courage and all out battle between men, between armies, between different ways of life and cultures. This is a developing series and so not all characters feature as heavily here as they do in others - there were a couple of old favourites I missed particularly - but this is made up for by the introduction of new characters.
The Eagle's Vengeance is written with supreme confidence and assurance. These are well developed characters; this is a subject the author knows inside out; there are few allowances made for the squeamishness of the reader's stomach. There is gore and horror as well as swearing by the bucketload (possibly a bit too much for me), but what else would one expect on this hostile frontier, where a day might mean the difference between life and death? For the first few chapters, as the soldiers wait for their next mission, there is lots of banter between the men - you are expected to know who everyone is, what their ranks are, what their relationships are - and if you haven't read the other novels then you might be confused by this. I've read every word of them all and I got muddled. But, as soon as the cohorts begin to head north, we settle into the story and the thrills and the dangers avalanche. The last section of the book is magnificent.
I have enjoyed this series from its beginning and I cannot wait for the next. May it run and run. I'm very grateful for my review
Eagles Vengeance Review
Our heroically dangerous Tungrians are back in Britain. Returning from their exploits in Dacia, triumphant, but with the knowledge of loss. (Tony does love to bump off a character or two).
Eagles vengeance is no different, In this latest book, Book six in the Empire series, Tony Riches send the reader on a thrill ride of dangerous exploits, daring action, Violent barbarian encounters and political manoeuvring, that will see the deaths of so many men and women we meet for the first time and some we have known for a while.
Tony's writing is for me subtly different from many others in the genre. Take for example Douglas Jackson (insert review) who writes with such passion and detail, while retaining a narrow cast. Tony Riches gives us the broad canvas of the Tungrian Cohorts, delving into the lives of so many of his men, and exploring who the Centurions and Chosen men of this group are. He brings the camaraderie of the squaddie to life in the ancient world. Many authors bring life to their characters, but miss this feeling of the group, the passion of the legion or men. Tony always hits this square on, and it's not just his unique colourful turn of phrase, it's something of the man himself, someone who comes alive in a group, a man built to entertain and be larger than life. That's the passion he brings to people like Marcus and Dubnus and the men of the Tungrian Cohorts.
I enjoyed this book, but I don't think I can say too much about it not without giving away what happens to whom and why and where, and those are spoilers I would not want. I can say that while it's not my favourite book in the series, (that's still reserved for Wounds of Honour), it's an excellent read that can stand alone and provide hours of entertainment. But my personal advice would be go buy all the books if you have never read the series, follow the life and exploits, the ups and downs of the hardest b@stards in the Roman Legion,.
The Tungrian auxiliary cohorts return to Hadrian's Wall after their successful Dacian campaign, only to find Britannia in chaos. The legions are overstretched, struggling to man the forts of the northern frontier in the face of increasing barbarian resistance.
The Tungrians are the only soldiers who can be sent into the northern wastes, far beyond the long abandoned wall built by Antoninus, where a lost symbol of imperial power of the Sixth Victorious Legion is reputed to await them. Protected by an impassable swamp and hidden in a fortress atop a high mountain, the eagle of the Sixth legion must be recovered if the legion is to survive.
Marcus and his men must penetrate the heart of the enemy's strength, ghosting through a deadly wilderness patrolled by vicious huntresses before breaching the walls of the Fang, an all-but-impregnable fort, if they are to rescue the legion's venerated standard. If successful their escape will be twice as perilous, with the might of a barbarian tribe at their heels
on 23 January 2014
The "Eagles Vengeance" was as usual a cracking good read. It follows on from all the other books with a flow that keeps your nose in the book, this was and is a serious 'unputable' downer
Roman Empire 186 AD Antonine's Wall in Britannia. The hunt for the lost Eagle to the North, you can almost smell the swamps of the Forth Delta, (No Mel Gibson Here)
Very well written, Thrilling in the political machinations, brutal in the battles, chuck in a new Baby, what more can a blood thirsty man want in a book.
Being a Scot I was able to almost pinpoint the locations of the places to real locations. Looking forward to the next book, where Cleander will make life very difficult for Marcus, (Just a feeling)
on 31 January 2014
This is another thrilling instalment in the Empire series and one you should read, especially if you are interested in Roman Britain (Britannia, Albion). Tony Riches always manages to combine a gripping and realistic story with humorous touches that will have you laughing out loud. The relationships between the characters and the way they are written, are very reminiscent of my days in the forces, blunt, funny and a reflection of how it is today, and more than likely, how it's always been to be in a military unit.
I know that a very small minority find the latter debatable, and it puts them off reading this kind of novel, but they are the ones that are missing out. Ancient graffiti and historical texts and even artefacts, demonstrate that Mr Riches version of the ancient world, especially when it comes to the Roman Military, is far closer to fact than their perception. That aside however, The Eagle's Vengeance is an exciting tale and one that I would highly recommend.
If you haven't read his novels before, I would suggest trying the first in the series, Wounds of Honour and if that's to your taste, and I'm sure it will be, try the rest, you'll be in for a treat. An easy 5 stars.
on 31 December 2013
Anyone who's kept up with my reviews over the past few years will already know how much I enjoy Anthony Riches' books. He is among the leaders in the field of Historical Fiction in my humble opinion, and never ceases to thrill and entertain me with his work. And when the next in the Empire series appears in Coming soon lists, my reading pile gets reordered appropriately.
The Eagle's Vengeance has some tough acts to follow. I would say that the first three of the series were very much on a par with one another, and told a story in a 3 book arc (albeit a sub-story of the main story arc). They were excellent books and I highly rated them. However, books 4 and 5 took us off in new and fascinating directions, diverging from the extant tale and into wonderful unexpected worlds. They were also each a significant step up, in my view, on their predecessors. So Book 6 had a lot to live up to.
I was a little surprised to find that after two tales that took the characters across the Empire towards the east, this book began with them returning to Britannia, where it had all begun and where the first three books had been set. On some level, that made me expect the story to drop straight back into the arc of the first three books and I wondered whether it might falter for me.
In fact, while returning to old ground, Riches has kept the feel fresh and new, tying up a number of ends that have been flapping loose for 3 books now while taking us forward into the greater arc of the series by leaps and bounds.
For those of you who've not read the previous books, beware a few spoilers here and skip this paragraph. You have been warned. Remember those loose ends? They are, now we go back to them, far more significant than I remembered. A legionary eagle lost by the 6th to the northern tribes? Corvus' true identity known to too many people for comfort? An unavenged senior officer? Look to Riches to deal with them at last.
So what is the Eagle's Vengeance? Well it does what it says on the tin. The tale revolves around - at a basic level - the hunt for a legion's eagle now in the hands of barbarians. For good reasons, only one unit in the whole of Britannia is suitable to send after it, and within that unit, only a small party of men stand a chance. And so is born a huge plan for distractions with military campaigns in order to allow a group of righteous thieves the opportunity to retrieve the lost item.
But as has become the norm in a Riches book, it is never that simple. Be sure that if the plot looks straightforward, that is because you are only seeing part of the big scheme. Be assured that there is more to the Eagle's Vengeance... MUCH more. For those of you like me who have been itching to see an advance into the deeper plot involving the protagonist's past, this is the book. It sort of marks a turning point in the grand plot, I think.
As usual, we see the departure of at least one old friend, but equally, we are introduced to a few new exciting characters. It wouldn't be Riches any other way. And for those of you who don't know his work, I will issue my usual warnings: Riches' military stories have the in-your-face feel that I have encountered in the real military. The violence is brutal, as is much of the humour, and the sexual content is above Carry On level. But that should in no way put you off. They are simply excellent.
The sixth book in the excellent "Empire" series and author Anthony Riches packs a lot into this one.
The Tungrian cohorts have made it back to Britain and Hadrian's Wall and things are not in good shape. Politics and plots have rooted the existing troops in place and the Tungrians are used on a near suicide mission to go north to beyond the Antoninus Wall to recover a lost legion eagle from the tribes who still bear a grudge from a previous engagement. So we are able to enjoy a strong mix of battle and cunning as the cohorts enter the barbarian's land and face everything from hoards of barbarians to giant dogs and murdering female warriors.
This would be enough but we then get some real big picture Roman politics and bad guys and some resolution to themes that have been running through the books.
It's a big and powerful novel with much to enjoy. A needed shunt on of the story but not losing the many things that make these stories so enjoyable, good historical knowledge (yep, I had never heard of Antoninus's wall), well drawn characters and tightly written plots. It is all good stuff and delivered with style and confidence by the author and ends up being one of the strongest entries in an already very strong and satisfying series.
There is a lot of good stuff dealing with this era and Anthony Riches is up there with the best of the authors doing this kind of thing.
on 6 October 2013
The 6th book "Eagles Vengeance" was as usual a real good read. It follows on from all the other 5 without any breaks so that despite the long periods between books so soon quickly pick up the thread and are able to follow the theme to a conclusion.
For me they are good stories of the Roman area 186 AD in Britannia. Very well written, brutal in the descriptions of the fights, the caricatures always seem real and alive not wooden as some do. This one was very good and once again was able to almost pinpoint the locations of the places to real locations.
I am not going to spoil the book plot, but it is a good read and to the high standard I have com to expect from Anthony Riches. 6 volumes to date.
on 12 May 2014
After reading and really enjoying the previous book in the Empire series, I was glad to be able to dive in to the sixth book, The Eagle's Vengeance immediately. Fresh of their victorious campaign in Dacia, the Tungrian cohorts return to Britannia only to find themselves sent out on a new mission upon arrival. The events in The Eagle's Vengeance are directly tied to those from the first three books, in which Calgus - the cohorts' main adversary in this book - plays an important part. Despite this strong link the story is quite self-contained; you haven't had to read the previous books to understand this one. This seems to be a pattern with Riches' books, which seem to be episodic in nature while all part of the same larger narrative arc.
The Eagle's Vengeance opens with prologue set north of the Antonine Wall and shows us how Calgus manages to scheme his way back into a position of power within the Britannic tribes. It was a powerful sequence and illustrated that there aren't just power-grabbing, ambitious men in the Roman ranks, but that the Britons have their fair share of them too. From here we move to the First Tungrian cohort, which has just landed back on the shores of Britannia. From there Riches launches us into the action quite quickly, when Scaurus and his men are given a mission to retrieve the Sixth Victorious Legion's lost Eagle from the impenetrable fortress where it is kept. The Eagle is the embodiment of the Legion's honour and without it the legion will be disbanded and its leaders will be discharged in disgrace. The Tungrians are under a lot of pressure to complete their mission impossible successfully.
The above forms the set up for what is basically a heist novel. While the main force of the cohort provides a distraction, Marcus and a selected group of soldiers go into Venicones territory covertly to infiltrate the Fang and get the Eagle back. On the surface this seems pretty straight-forward, however Riches manages to layer several story arcs on top of each other, making the mission far less A-to-Z than it looks. While I enjoyed Marcus and company's covert storyline, I found the main cohort's arc more compelling, especially once they rejoin forces with Marcus and have to escape a Venicone ambush and do so in what can only be called an epic move. The battle Riches describes is awe-inspiring and had me holding my breath at points. And like in The Wolf's Gold, Riches shows us the harsh reality of Roman warfare and reminds us that it was a lethal career choice for many, if not most legionnaires--not all of the Tungrians will make it out alive.
Back below the Wall, we're also given a storyline from the point of view of Marcus' wife, Felicia. I loved her viewpoint and I was really pleased to read more about her, after seeing her at a bit of a remove in The Wolf's Gold. Her arc is was very cool and I lost her fearlessness and her interactions with her assistant Annia. I was rather disappointed that we only got so little pages from her point of view. It served the story and showing us more from her perspective would probably have led to unnecessary padding of the narrative, but I still would have loved to have seen more of her.
The Eagle's Vengeance is a fabulous story, with amazing battle descriptions and quite emotionally touching scenes, both tender and heart-breaking. With this second book I've read by Anthony Riches, I've certainly become a convert to his writing and I was glad I once again got to move on in the story immediately by picking up The Emperor's Knives. As The Wolf's Gold, The Eagle's Vengeance can be read as a standalone novel, but if you're anything like me, you'll only want more of Marcus, the Tungrians, and Anthony Riches' writing.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.
This is volume six of Anthony Riches' "Empire" series which take place at the end of the second century AD and will ultimately also cover the first decades of the third century as well. In this volume, the action takes place in AD 184.
The book has the same ingredients as the other previous episodes. It is essentially one of these "swords and sandals" (well, Roman boots anyway!) adventure stories books, but it is one of the better ones, or, perhaps more accurately, one of the ones that I prefer. The main reason for this is because Tony Riches is one of these authors who happens to be just as good as a story teller and as a historian. His historical note on the Antonin Wall (much less well-known than Hadrian's Wall) is rather excellent. His description of the Roman army, the relationships between legions and auxiliaries, between tribunes, centurions and troopers and between senators and equestrians are also well grounded and thoroughly researched.
Some readers might dislike the rather abundant "profanity" in the dialogues, with lots of swearing, slang and biological and sexual terms. One other reviewer took exception to what was seen as a transposition of the behaviour and vocabulary of modern British soldiers. The author certainly has made this assumption, and quite deliberately. However, it does "rings true" and seems rather plausible, to say the least. We do know that Roman soldiers were made to be though, rough and coarse. Assuming they weren't already so when they enlisted, they certainly became so, or else they did not last very long. In modern parlance, you could say that this was part of the "job requirements". Anyway, who expects Roman soldiers, whether legionaries or auxiliaries, to be gentile, nice and sweet, polite and well brought up?
The book does however take a while before the actions (fight against the Venicones tribe) starts coming thick and fast and finishing with Marcus Aquila (our "blue-eyed boy" Eagle) getting at least part of his revenge. The plot and machinations of the Praetorian Prefect Perennis are, to some extent, invented although quite plausible and also partly backed by the sources. The portrait that Tony Riches draws of Emperor Commodus is also a rather plausible one with his unwillingness to rule, his (rather understandable) paranoia and his bout of murderous rage.
Tony Riches has also done something similar to what Harry Sidebottom has done in his recent "Ballista" volume. There is a clear allusion to Rosemary Sutclif's classical Roman novel - another Eagle has been lost and needs to be retrieved. One of the secondary characters in this volume is a camp prefect called Artorus Castus. This was a true historical character who did serve in Britain at about that time, and NOT during the Fifth century AD contrary to what is shown in the film "King Arthur".
So, to a large extent, this one is "more of the same": if you liked the previous episodes, then you know what to expect. You will also like this one (just as I did!), although you might find that the first a hundred pages or so are a bit "slow going". Be aware, however, that it is preferable to read these volumes sequentially, and this is perhaps even more the case for this one.
Four solid stars.
PS (added on 25 September 2013): those wanting to learn more about the Antonine Wall can usefully read Osprey's "Rome's Northern Frontier AD 70-235" which presents just about enough additional context to go with this book to suit the vast majority of readers. Anyway, it worked rather well for me, so I hope it might also work for you...
on 10 September 2013
Perhaps the best in the series this book grabs you from page one. Simply couldn't put it down The pace of this tale never lets up for a moment. Packed with will they won't they edge of seat stuff in every chapter. Good guys, bad guys, evil guys, crafty guys and just plain nasty guys they are all here with a bucketful of blood and guts.
Plus the usual interesting historic facts...............did you know the Romans built a second wall to the North of Hadrian's? This book will tell you why.