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4.4 out of 5 stars
The Imperial Banner: Agent of Rome 2
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 March 2014
I hadn't read the previous book, The Siege, so I jumped into this series not knowing what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised.

The mystery plot that Corbulo must uncover is convoluted without being incomprehensible, and takes the characters through interesting and varied twists and turns. The writing is clever; clear and lucid whilst at the same time building up a rich world populated by authentic characters. It felt believable. One of the best points about The Imperial Banner was that I was clueless until the reveal of who was behind the mystery. Sometimes a book reads far too predictably and I can guess very early on whodunit, and that really sucks a lot of the excitement and energy out of a mystery novel. I’m glad to report that wasn’t the case here, and towards the end I even began to suspect someone else entirely, without the novel obviously misdirecting me towards that suspicion.

I also can’t help but appreciate how the author balances contemporary sensibilities with modern values. Corbulo and the other characters talk out of their times, but not too much, expressing enough doubt or wondering to make them identifiable with the 21st century reader. Pacing is great too, every few pages offering scenes that advance the plot and developments that make you feel like you’ve progressed, however at the same time dangling the solution just out of reach - definitely frustrating, in a compelling, page-turner way!

All in all I would definitely recommend The Imperial Banner. It’s solidly enjoyable, cleverly written, and I must admit I’m rather intrigued to read the first book and the soon to be released third instalment.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I really enjoyed The Siege, Nick Brown's first book about Cassius Corbulo. This one is also very good but, although set in approximately the same area, it doesn't follow the pattern of the first book and can be read as a stand-alone novel. Cassius has grown up a bit and gained more confidence, although one could question whether he has matured or just become more arrogant. Certainly he is less appealing than he was in The Siege and more exasperating, but, as young men do, he is flexing the muscles of his improved self esteem.

After the siege, instead of going back to intelligence, Cassius attached himself to the staff of the general that relieved the fort and has had a very enjoyable eighteen months in an easy billet at Cyzicus on the north coast of Asia Minor, well away from any of the troubles in Syria. And there have been troubles galore, but Zenobia's revolt against the Empire is over and she has been led away in chains to Rome. An uneasy peace is being brokered, but something disastrous has happened and someone has noticed Cassius's availability to sort it all out.

But before all this starts we meet Indavara. Indavara is a gladiator, a prodigious fighter. If he wins his twentieth fight he will win his freedom, but the odds have been (literally) stacked against him as his owner has a huge bet on that he will lose, and has encouraged some of his very powerful and very nasty friends also to bet against Indavara's success. We go through every stage of that last fight with Indavara, learning about his courage, intelligence and cunning as he tries to overcome the obstacles that have been set against him to ensure that he cannot win. We become totally involved with what happens to him. In a lesser book you would assume: big fight - obvious main character - successful outcome secure. But you cannot assume that here and by the end, you really care. Yes, Indavara will play a major part in the story, but will he be alive or dead?

Cassius and his faithful slave Simo arrive in Antioch after a three week long gruelling ride. Abascantius, the local intelligence chief tells him that a convoy carrying, among other things, an ancient sacred Persian banner, has gone missing somewhere in the Syrian desert. The banner is vital to the success of the peace talks and must be found within the next nineteen days. Cassius must find it, or Abascantius will inform the intelligence bosses in Rome of his virtual desertion in Cyzicus.

The search for the banner is everything you could hope it to be: exciting, gory, full of action, plot and counter plot, all enhanced by the developing knowledge we have of the characters and their convincing place in the Eastern Roman Empire.

This book fulfils the all the promise of The Siege: an enthralling story, peopled by credible and engaging characters in a realistic historical setting. What more could you ask for?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Having enjoyed The Siege very much I'm glad this sequel avoided the dreaded 'second novel blip'. On the whole, I enjoyed it very much and will be back for more. I rate Brown highly in what's become something of a cut-throat field [pardon pun]. For what it's worth, I don't like Sidebottom, Riches is OK and Scarrow, mmm - certainly used to be excellent. Only other one I rave about is Robert Fabbri [Vespasian]. Certain differences here, I think, from previous novel, hence my caveat above. Story is fine, action moves on well, it's well-written but I was less happy with the characters. Cassius this time , for me, was a rather pompous prig and after a superb introduction, I didn't like Brown's treatment of Indavara as something of a bumbling idiot. Perhaps there's more to come - I certainly hope so, as there's room for development [which is possibly what he has in mind?]. Maybe got a bit complex towards the end [who was doing what to whom] but I did enjoy it. Strange to think that all this was going on in 270 AD in what is modern Syria. Plus ca change..............
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 13 October 2013
The Imperial Banner is the second book in Nick Brown's The Agent of Rome series and sees us return to the third century and our inexperienced, unlikely hero Cassius Corbulo. After the events in The Siege, Cassius and his manservant Simo have some down time solving some minor crimes which understandably Corbulo enjoys! However, after a long standing conflict between Rome and its greatest rival Persia comes to an end, Corbulo and Simo are called back into action by the Imperial Security Service. As part of the peace treaty between Rome and Persia, a symbolic battle standard know as the Faridun's Banner (or the Derafsh Kaviani) which was captured by the Romans in the war, is agreed to be returned to the Persian Emperor as part of the coming together of the great Empires. The Imperial Security Service is tasked with transporting the standard from Antioch to the peace talks between Rome and Persia. However, when the convoy does not report in several days after its departure, the Service begins to fear the worst and Corbulo is tasked with retrieving the Standard from whomever stole it. Luckily for Corbulo, the Service provides the young officer with a body guard to protect him from the bandits that likely stole the Standard.

Indavara is a sword for hire and is tasked with protecting Corbulo on his investigation. A freed Gladiator, Indavara is an expert in sword fighting and archery, which is lucky for Corbulo because when Indavara first meets him, he is being attack by three Legionaries! At first Corbulo and the Service expect that the convoy was ambushed by brigands left over from Queen Zenobia's rebellion. However, when clues are unearthed and rumours about Antioch's leading politicians are proved true, Corbulo's belief that the attack on the convoy was an 'inside job' becomes stronger and stronger. Nevertheless, his superiors disagree and are convinced that the Banner was stolen accidentally by opportunistic bandits. With his limited experience, Corbulo is uncertain whether to follow orders or go with his gut instinct,but after a failed assassination attempt on his life, Corbulo is certain that Roman politics and political intrigue is at play and follows his leads to the heart of Antioch's society.

In my review of The Siege I said that I really enjoyed the book because Corbulo was not made out to be a hero, but instead was a scared and inexperienced teenager, which for me made the book more realistic. In The Imperial Banner, Corbulo is still inexperienced teenager but he also becomes a very arrogant and at times, unlikable character. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed this factor because again it made the novel and Corbulo seem much more realistic. I could imagine that a rich, aristocratic teenager who has the authority of the Roman Emperor would be arrogant and self-righteous and therefore a little bit unlikable. I don't know if this was intentional but I do really like how Corbulo isn't really the hero that seems to appear in books in this genre. In addition, I found the story behind Faridun's Banner intriguing and thought it was a good mystery for Corbulo to uncover!

All in all, this was a great historical mystery novel in a very promising series and I can't wait to check out the next novel The Far Shore. I would suggest this book to fans of other Roman history novels such as Simon Scarrow's Marco and Cato series or Anthony Riches's Empire series. I'd also suggest it to fans of other historical mystery novels such as C. J. Sansom's Shardelake series.

For more book reviews be sure to google adam-p-reviews
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 April 2013
After years of war, Rome is finally ready to sign a historic peace treaty with the Persian Empire. Before signing the treaty the Persian's are demanding the return of Faridun's Banner, their ancient battle standard that has fallen into Rome's hands.

Disaster strikes when the men sent to retrieve the banner disappear along with the banner and put the whole treaty in jeopardy.

Imperial agent Cassius Corbulo is summoned from his self imposed exile in Asia Minor. Traveling to the war torn province of Syria with his faithful slave Simo he is given the mission to find the banner and save the treaty.

With the ex-Gladiator Indavara as a bodyguard, Cassius must survive numerous skirmishes and assassination attempts as he enters the murky and dangerous world of Syrian politics.

Not knowing who he can trust, he must contend with traitorous Romans, Palmyran rebels and bandits. He also knows that if he doesn't find the banner he can kiss his career goodbye.

With the clock ticking down, can he find the banner and prevent Rome and the Persian Empire from sliding back into war?

With the Historical fiction market already saturated with Roman books I was a bit skeptical about this book. I mean were does another Roman book fit when you already have the likes of Ben Kane, Doug Jackson and Anthony Riches to name but three?

Well, fit it does. I have to say that thoroughly enjoyed this book, it is well written and has a great pace about it. While is may not have the big set piece battles that normally accompany a book about the Romans, it does has intrigue, danger and a healthy dose of detective work as Cassius searches for the banner.

Talking of Cassius, he is one of the main reasons this book is so good. He isn't your normal run of the mill Roman hero, in fact he isn't any sort of hero. For a solider of Rome he is scared of confrontation, useless in a fight and more interested in chasing the ladies than beating Rome's enemies.

What he is though, is a great investigator and with Indavara to do the fighting for him he can concentrate on finding the banner and stop war breaking out.

Another aspect of the book I enjoyed was the travel across the war torn province of Syria. As we accompany Cassius across the province we see the devastation that war has brought and the struggle that Rome faces to reassert its control.

I love the descriptions of the dangers on the roads and the desolation of the far flung way stations, as small pockets of Roman legionaries try to hunt down the last few Palmyran rebels and contain the bandits infesting the province.

With a great cast of secondary characters and a mystery that keeps you guessing until the end this is a excellent book and if you like your Romans, then you should read this book!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 March 2013
I was interested to see what Nick would do following on from the Siege. It was such a self-contained novel and unlike many other first novels, it did not leave enough threads dangling from which to tie on a follow up-plot. And so I was extremely pleased as I started reading `Banner' to find that he hasn't even tried that. This is a second book that could almost be read as a standalone, barring a few references to define characters. Instead of a story arc, it would appear that this series is going more down the Indiana Jones route, with linked but self-contained stories. Refreshing.

Just as refreshing is the fact that many writers seem, to me, to write a storming first book, then waver a little on the second, making it too complex or too dark or suchlike, before finding their feet with a third triumph. Nick seems not to fall into this convenient category. In fact, I will say with hand on heart that this Book 2 is considerably better than the first, though I thoroughly enjoyed that too.

`Banner' is a complex whodunnit mixed with a treasure hunt. It is action pretty much from beginning to end and, though it lacks the `combat brutality' of the first, it has swordfights, adventure, sneaking around underground passages and mines, infiltrating cults, following suspects, making arrests, bar room punch-ups, twists, turns, gladiators and so much more.

I wrote something myself a while back (as yet still under wraps) which a friend labelled `James Bond in ancient Rome'. That phrase came to mind with this book too, along with Peter Ustinov tapping his temple and talking about the `little grey cells'. You see that, to me, is what it felt like: an exciting, engaging mix between Indiana Jones, Hercule Poirot and James Bond.

The main character is not so much growing - he's young and inexperienced and the books take place too close in time for much change to become apparent - but he is deepening. The reader is coming to understand him more. The best thing about this is that Cassius doesn't need to change. Again, many writers seem to see the need for characters to grow with each book. It's sometimes unnecessary. A well-defined character shouldn't change too much or he might lose what makes him catchy. And with the return of his slave Simo, who is also becoming deeper and more relevant, and the addition of the new and engaging Indevara, Cassius has two companions who are different enough that the three bounce off each other well, creating thoughtful moments, humourous moments and angry moments. It is often the interplay that makes a book and that is strong with these leads.

I will add also that Nick has done such a good job of portraying Roman Syria that the reader feels everything as he/she reads it. It is descriptive and atmospheric.

But finally, as I come rambling back to the start of my description, the strength of this book above all else lies in its plot: An item of almost inestimable value has been stolen and there are no leads. Cassius is drawn into the desperate investigation with an extremely short time limit before the world he knows is endangered (and he even more so.) A race against the hourglass to uncover the perpetrator among a nest of potential villains in an investigation that tracks across Syria and the great city of Antioch
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 November 2012
For some reason that I cannot fathom, I have yet to read The Siege (Agent of Rome), the first of Nick Brown's Roman tales featuring imperial agent (or corn man) Cassius Corbulo. However, having now read the second in the series, this year's The Imperial Banner, I'll be putting that right. Fortunately, although the same characters are featured - especially the wet-behind-the-ears Corbulo and his reliable and kind Christian servant Simo - Imperial Banner does stand alone very well indeed.

Nick Brown transports us back to late 3rd-century AD Palmyra. Queen Zenobia has been defeated and she is the captive of Rome and its emperor Aurelius. Manoeuvres are afoot, though, to bring about a historic peace treaty between the Roman and Persian Empires. Vital for this is the ceremonial handing over by Rome of Faridun's Banner, the treasured standard of Persia. It's unfortunate, then, that the banner appears to have gone missing, stolen by person or persons unknown. Cassius Corbulo, a reluctant agent who had been attempting to keep a very low profile in some quiet town with fig trees, is recalled to Syria and given the lethal mission of tracing the footsteps of the men (and fellow agent Gregorius) who had been attempting to escort a great Persian treasure, including the banner, to its new Roman masters but had instead disappeared off the face of the earth.

Corbulo is given an extra pair of hands to help. They belong to Indavara, the ex-gladiator.

The Imperial Banner has an explosive opening chapter - we find ourselves in the gladiatorial arena as Indavara faces his twentieth bout. Should he survive it, and it's considered very unlikely he will considering the forces he must overcome, then he will be freed. His master has bet against him, not a good sign. Although we know that Indavara will be a significant character in the novel, his success against all odds is nonetheless remarkable and ensures our respect for him through the rest of the pages. Corbulo wasn't a witness to Indavara's cunning and courage in the arena and so he is far less tolerant than us of this reticent, quiet and troubled ox of a man. But Corbulo isn't the only man that learns to know Indavara (sometimes the hard way); Corbulo's servant Simo, a gentle and kind man, though equally brave and determined in his own way, forges his own relationship with the ex-gladiator.

As the small team work their way across the desert and into Antioch, uncovering the bloody evidence of a merciless and brutal plot, there is no shortage of adventure. This, though, is offset by moments that put a lump in the throat. When, for example, soldiers are punished by picking a courtyard clean of weeds, Simo and Indavara are found helping - one because a fellow man needed a helping hand and the other because he likes to keep busy. Time after time we watch Corbulo, a young and often irritating aristocrat, roll his eyes at his companions but as the novel and the journey progresses they each have lessons to learn about the others. Christianity is oppressed in Antioch and Simo must confront the very personal consequences of this; Corbulo has his own arrogance and petulance to overcome as he learns his craft; Indavara learns a human lesson - that he is not alone.

It's these human elements that add a great depth to Agent of Rome: The Imperial Banner. The action is hugely exciting and there is lots of it. Corbulo can barely survive a day without almost everyone he meets wanting to snuff the life out of him. But this is matched perfectly with the more intimate human drama between these three very interesting protagonists.

Agent of Rome: The Siege is now a priority read and I also look forward to future novels. There is much ground to cover.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 November 2013
I read and thoroughly enjoyed Nick Brown's first book The Siege, and so was really looking forward to The Imperial Banner. As difficult as the previous novel must have been to write, as most of the story is confined to a small fort, the author decided to go in a completely direction with The Imperial Banner and still created a great story.

Compared to the previous book, it's like chalk and cheese but just as compelling, maybe more so and contains some fantastic scenes and imaginary. One particular favourite for me was when Cassius and his small party come across a group of legionaries that have been ambushed and slaughtered, it's very vivid and well written and easily allows the reader to imagine the horrific scene they witness.

Don't expect a lot of action as per book one as the story is more of a journey as Cassius leads in squad in search of the banner that could well determine the fate of thousands. The character and body guard, Indavara could easily have a book dedicated to himself alone, I find him fascinating. If you read book one and enjoyed it, get book two, it's a must and if you didn't buy The Siege, I would highly recommend it as I do with this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The second in this new Roman series sits within a pretty crowded market and some very well-known authors. I enjoyed the first book and this follow up is just as good.

Young and slightly naive Cassius Corbulo is an Imperial agent, not by choice, more by circumstance. He is smart but no great sword fighter and in many situations lacks confidence or gravitas which does make a refreshing change. In this book he continues to be aided by his servant Sumo (and again the author avoids the trap of them treating each-other as equals) and a taciturn ex Gladiator who is along as a bodyguard. The three of them are on the trail of some stolen treasure and an Imperial Banner that must be recovered.

So we share the adventures of our trio as they doggedly follow the trail of theft, murder and treachery.

It works on a number of levels as the characters have depth and, especially in the case of Cassius, have their flaws that they manage through. In addition the dynamics between the main three characters is always entertaining and this helpd make this a fun and entertaining romp.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 June 2012
Review:

I will start this review with the fact that i really enjoyed Siege the first book in this series. The reason i loved it has been carried through to this book and so in my opinion has made it also a great success. The hero Cassius is a great reluctant hero, he doesn't try to go out there and do great deeds he just either stumbles into them and does his best, or he uses his great deductive skills and intelligence and drops him self right in the middle of all the trouble in the world.

Not since Saylor (Gordianus the Finder) and Davies (Falco) has there been an attempt to have a Roman detective type character, and in the case of Cassius he is a member of the 'service' the Frumentarii. The thing is, i found Gordianus the Finder to be a little implausible and Falco to be a bit of a...well caricature, where as Cassius is real, warts and all, young naive, learning on the fly, screwing up on a regular basis and hopefully learning from those mistakes. But also still a product of his patrician background with the underlying arrogance and bigotry that comes with it.

This latest book is told with all of the above, wrapped up in a powerful complex twisty plot that thrills with every page, it kept me up until 2am several nights running. The main character is balanced beautifully with his servant/ slave Simo a closet christian and all round nice guy, and the absolute star of this book Indavara, a young man abused most of his life, yet strong willed and skilled enough to have earned his freedom from the Games, yest still a man flawed (rather than the boring infallible hero).

This is a truly excellent book, definitely not your average swords and Sandals blood fest, a great plot with great characters and still loaded with action.

Highly recommended.

(Parm)

Background on the book:

Praise for AGENT OF ROME: THE SIEGE -- : 'Agent of Rome is a masterful debut from a new author completely at home in this era; the writing is deft, the action swift and bloody and the characters believable and engaging. I look forward greatly to the next one.' -- Manda Scott 'Once the action kicks off you won't be able to put it down.' -- Anthony Riches, author of the Empire series 'Brown's intelligent and exhilarating story excels in its perfect pace, vivid combat sequences and superb characterisation. The Siege delivers a thrilling coming-of-age adventure with an unlikely but likeable hero whose exploits are set to win an army of fans' -- Lancashire Evening Post 'Brown promises to be one of the most exciting sword-wielding writers in an ever-popular arena. In this, his debut, his principal is a 19-year-old fresh-faced officer commanding 100 men in defence of a Syrian stronghold against a vastly superior force. There are echoes of Beau Geste in this death-or-glory stand.' -- The Oxford Times 'The Siege is an excellent debut novel and delivers a thrilling and fascinating coming-of-age adventure' -- Book Gazette 'Nick Brown has the craft of storytelling at his fingertips ... The Siege is a fast-paced and satisfying read' -- Russell Whitfield, author of Gladiatrix
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