Roman imperial secret service agent Cassius Corbulo is back. Despatched by the chief spymaster to his deputy's villa on the island of Rhodes, Cassius arrives to discover the deputy, Memor, newly murdered. Not only that, Memor's head has been sliced off and stolen by his assassin. Reluctantly, Cassius accepts the inevitable and sets off in pursuit of the killer on a winter journey that will take him and his companions across the stormblown Mare Nostrum to a remote part of Cyrenaica on the cold and dusty North African coast.
The Agent of Rome series is a favourite of mine but, while I would suggest you read The Siege (Agent of Rome) and The Imperial Banner (Agent of Rome) first, The Far Shore stands well alone.
The Far Shore is one of the most gripping novels of Roman historical fiction that I have read. It is heated up with two equally dramatic, harrowing episodes that were impossible for me to put down. The sea voyage is so intense and horrible and brilliantly described that I could feel my own stomach churn, let alone that of Cassius and the others. The captain and his crew come alive, doing much more for the novel than simply sailing our hero across the Roman world. This is then matched by the fascinating depiction of life on the very edges of late Roman rule on its remote North African edge. This is the late 3rd century AD when indigenous tribes were reclaiming lands across the empire, aided by a succession of fleeting, corrupt, embattled governments in Rome. Cassius gets a taste of this first hand in Cyrenaica. A dangerous place at a dangerous time.
Quite apart from the edge of seat action, a great appeal of this series is the trio at its heart - Cassius is an unlikely hero. As he admits, being a secret service agent hardly endears him to strangers, and his youth and arrogance might seem charming at times but at others they get him into all sorts of trouble. He is very likeable but he also can be irritating. His treatment of his servants, and the entire female gender, is enough to make the reader roll their eyes on occasion. But he has many redeeming qualities which shine through despite himself. Simo, the bodyservant from Gaul, is a fine creation by Nick Brown. There is so much I want to know about him. We see him mainly though his master's eyes but we get glimpses of something much deeper and fascinating. We found out a little about Simo in The Imperial Banner and I'm looking forward to learning much more. Indavara is likewise a character with a lot to give as we go through the novels. The Far Shore tantalisingly delivers some of Indavara's past. The dynamic between the three can be laugh out loud funny, amusing, or deeply touching or on edge. It works very effectively to unite the novels together even though the action in them is largely independent.
Overall, The Far Shore is a thoroughly enjoyable, fast and furious, often funny Roman adventure, populated by people I care about and set in a world in which demons are at work. I'm grateful for the review copy.
It becomes, after a while very easy to say a book is the best yet, his finest work etc. to be honest I think that this should be the case, a person should grow in their job, should strive for improvement, if they don't do that they stagnate and come to see it as a wage not thing to be enjoyed and improved.
There are some fine authors who have fallen into this downward spiral (not always a neglect, sometimes just life getting in the way). The good news is that Nick is at the start of what is a very steep upward curve. Every book leaps and bounds above the last with improvements in style, prose, characterisation and intricacy to the plot.
When book one The Siege (Agent of Rome)came out I grabbed it because I love Roman Historical Fiction, it was during that first read that I had a momentary worry, I'm not normally a fan of Historical Crime fiction. (No idea why, I like crime thrillers , I love Hist Fic, should be a marriage made in heaven) It's my failing, I suppose I'm looking for the CSI type resolution rather than the cerebral Holmes type resolution? I have tried some of the really great writers of this genre and been left feeling ...Meh!
But not so with Nick Brown, Corbulo is not the average detective type, especially in this book, there is a total humanity to him, a depth that so many writers fail to get to. He is on the page warts and all, his innate snobbery, something he clearly doesn't see because that's the way he was raised. His view of women, and their status in the order of the roman world and his utter surprise when a strong woman gets peeved at him for being a chauvinist prig. His casual demeaning of Indavara (who is my favourite character in the book, not just your average thug, a man of depth and complexity, but also who provides great humour in the book, one of my fav sidekicks at the moment across many series.) these traits are all part of the make-up of a very complex man, driven, and brave, afraid of not doing his duty, striving to be better, but also built from the sum of his experiences, and as he is still a young man he has many more experiences and lessons to learn.
The other thing that keeps bringing me back to Nick Browns books is his USP (unique selling point), the fact that his character is set in his own career, he is and isn't a soldier, he is a Grain Man , a spy, a fixer, a detective he is what ever the Roman secret service (the Frumentarii) require of him. This sets the whole series apart. And I think its this that gives the added extra for me personally and lifts it beyond a Hist Fic Crime novel. Its part crime, part detective, part spy, part hist fic. It basically is an absorbing tale set against the back drop of one of the greatest empires in the world, but exposed to its core of corruption.
The Plot... well read the book description,
"When the deputy commander of Rome's Imperial Security Service is assassinated on the island of Rhodes, Cassius Corbulo swiftly finds himself embroiled in the investigation. Assisted once more by ex-gladiator bodyguard Indavara and servant Simo, his search for the truth is complicated by the involvement of the dead man's headstrong daughter, Annia.
Braving hostile seas, Cassius and his allies follow the assassin's trail south aboard a ship captained by a roguish Carthaginian smuggler and manned by his disparate, dangerous crew. Their journey leads them to the farthest reaches of the empire; to a ruined city where the rules of Roman civilization have long been abandoned, and a deadly battle of wits with a brutal, relentless foe."
That was written by an expert, you don't need me to add to that... and I miss spoilers by avoiding it.... I will say Corbulo has my sympathy on the sea voyage, I felt green just reading about it.
Reading geek points also to anyone who spots the Star Wars reference in the book (I'm not spoiling it.... Sorry, meant I didn't see it because I'm not a geek...honest)
on 15 November 2014
I was happily stuck in a historical crime fiction rut – mainly medieval crime – but a friend recommended this book, and left me wondering why I had not discovered the delights of Roman crime and the author Nick Brown before? I can’t say how much I enjoyed this book – finding the mixture of plot, characters, action, humor and the historical setting perfectly balanced. The protagonist Cassius is a fantastically unreconstructed male – there is no pandering to 21st century sensibilities here. Some of his opinions on his slaves, servants and women are startling. On the other hand, other characters in the book, such as his bodyguard Indavara or the brilliantly stubborn Annia, challenge his prejudices again and again – allowing Cassius to come across as a likeable and engaging character, if a little flawed. But who wants a perfect hero? The main storyline – the murder of an important official in the Roman spy service – creates a gripping plot that takes the reader on a kind of nautical road trip to Rhodes, Crete and then the northern coast of Africa. The historical details are fascinating – but The Far Shore doesn’t read like a history book. The details are there to feed the reader’s imagination and bring the story to life – exactly what historical fiction should achieve. Brown also writes action brilliantly – an element of this genre that a lot of other writers seem to struggle with. I could follow all the action scenes without wondering who was doing what, or what just happened. There was suspense, horror and sometimes even humor in these scenes. One of the delights of discovering a new novelist to read, is finding that they have a rich back-catalogue. The Far Shore is not the first in the Agent of Rome series – but this wasn’t a problem to me as a reader. Everything in the novel made sense to me as a stand-alone novel – but I now have the pleasure of reading what came before.
on 26 May 2014
Nick Brown's The Far Shore features the second Roman setting in my historical fiction month and it's the second such series I'm not starting at the beginning. Despite not starting with the first book in the Agent of Rome series, The Far Shore is very readable and it doesn't feel like the reader misses crucial information by not having read the previous books. More than Anthony Riches' Empire series, Agent of Rome feels episodic, especially since The Far Shore is essentially a murder mystery. However, that may not be true for all of the books in the series, but I can only judge by this one. And The Far Shore is an exciting story, with a satisfyingly neat ending, that left me curious to learn more of Cassius, Indavara, and Simo.
Interestingly, while Cassius Corbulo is the book's protagonist, I connected far more strongly with his bodyguard Indavara. In fact, at times I found Cassius downright unsympathetic. Cassius can be arrogant and headstrong and not always too considerate of the feelings of those around him. It's a trait that comes to the fore most often in his treatment of Indavara, Annia, and Annia's maid Clara. His thoughts and behaviour as regards the two women isn't pretty--in his view of the world women should be seen and not heard, demure, dutiful and should know their place. Annia is none of these things, she's opinionated, just as headstrong as Cassius and isn't content with waiting at home for the men to discover who killed her father--unsurprisingly, I rather liked her. His exasperation with her behaviour, which at times is quite warranted, is often interspersed with thoughts that she's quite attractive and if only she'd be better behaved, which exasperated me in turn. On a similar track are his dealings with Clara; while she seems to reciprocate his advances, it made me feel squicky as I kept doubting whether she'd ever really have been able to say no, seeing as she's a slave.
But Cassius' relationship with Indavara was the one that frustrated me the most. While at times it feels like there is a friendship in the making there, Cassius can't seem to get over his snobbishness and forget that Indavara used to be a gladiator and as such is a freedman, not a citizen. Yet, there is certainly a lot of fellow-feeling there and he does seem to want to do right by Indavara, when he thinks about it consciously. At the same time, when Indavara catches Annia's interest over Cassius, instead of acknowledging he's jealous, he lashes out and decides Indavara is overreaching himself. However, I did like the fact that he's called out on his behaviour and that he apologizes to Indavara later on in the story. His interactions with Indavara are contrasted with his far more equitable relationship with his man-servant Simo, another character I really liked.
Indavara is a mysterious character. We get the rough sketch of how he became Cassius' bodyguard, but we don't get any background on him other than that he used to be a gladiator and he's saved Cassius' life on several occasions. He's a combination of hard experience in battle and a rather naive, innocent and uneducated soul outside of it. I found him a compelling character and I appreciated the petulance with which he regards Cassius' treatment of him at times. His tentative romance with Annia was delightful and I loved the fact that he was so conscious of not wanting to overstep her boundaries. When we finally do learn more about Indavara's past, near the end of the narrative, it clarifies a lot about him and I wonder if one of the next books won't focus on the questions raised by this revelation.
The mystery central to the narrative is expertly plotted and paced. I really liked how it was resolved, though it came at a cost that I hadn't foreseen at all. Brown doesn't pull any punches and doesn't keep anyone safe, and the lion almost killed me. I enjoyed the fact that while there are some pitched battles in the book, most of the conflict is of the more stealthy variety, which is fitting for a book featuring an intelligence officer. Additionally, Cassius is not a gifted warrior, in fact he's middling at best, something that I found refreshing as usually this isn't the case. Brown also took the action of the book to a portion of the Roman Empire I hadn't encountered before and it was interesting to see how different things are on the other side of the Mediterranean.
The Far Shore was a really enjoyable book, whose last 150 or so pages I tore through in one sitting. Even if Cassius wasn't the easiest protagonist to like at times, I did come to care for him as I did for his companions. The story was exciting and well-paced and I certainly hope to read more of Cassius' adventures in the future. If you like your historical fiction set in the Roman period and like mysteries, then this is certainly a book you need to check out.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.
on 12 August 2013
This series is getting better and better, anyone who likes historical fiction then you'll love this. Up there with the best of them. Really looking forward to the next book and hopefully many more!
on 31 October 2015
Joining the Imperial Security Service was supposed to be easy. Gaining the same rank as a Centurion without the risk of imminent death is a great perk to have in the Roman Army. However, so far Cassius Corbulo’s first few months in the service have been nothing less than dreadful. His first posting was to a small fort in Palmyra, which he valiantly defended against the rebellion of Queen Zenobia. Then having gained some glory in the service, Cassius and his servant Simo were tasked with retrieving the lost Faridun’s Banner, which was vital in gaining peace on Rome’s eastern frontier. Now Cassius and his new bodyguard Indavara have finally been given a task they can enjoy.
The mission is pretty simple. All Cassius and his retinue have to do is travel to the Greek island of Rhodes and pick up a message from the Deputy Commander of the Imperial Security Service. Cassius cannot wait for a long overdue holiday on an island that is brimming with culture, good wine and women. However as usual, Cassius is not that lucky. When he and his men arrive at the commander’s house they find that he has been brutally murdered and his body mutilated. The Commander’s daughter Annia, with her forthcoming manner and all out bossiness, persuades Cassius to pursue the murder inquiry and find those responsible for her father’s death.
After finding a Carthaginian captain to help them, the investigation takes Cassius and his men all over Rhodes and the Mediterranean. Dangerous storms and conflicts on the ship almost end the man-hunt. Nonetheless, when the crew finally arrives at a small Roman town on the North African coast, they realise that the murder and situation is grimmer than they expected. Cassius must use his cunning and the attributes of his men to find the puppet-master behind the Commander’s murder.
This is the third book in Nick Brown's Agent of Rome series and I have to say I really enjoyed it. I thought adding the murder/mystery element to the novel made it seem fresher than some other Roman historical fiction novels that can sometimes stagnate. I really liked learning more about the mysterious Indavara and thought that Cassius developed more in this novel too. He came across as the arrogant aristocrat that I believe he is. I liked this because I feel that other books in this genre always have a similar zero-to-hero protagonist who comes from a rich family and is forced to serve in the army. Cassius does fall into this category too, but I think by making him arrogant distinguishes him from other characters in other novels that always seem to take on the ‘one of the lads’ personalities. In real life I think there would have been a hierarchy, with the young aristocratic officers taking on an ‘us and them’ personality between themselves and the legionaries. This is what Cassius does in the book and it makes him seem more realistic.
I have to admit that some parts of the book I listened too via an audiobook. At first I really didn’t like the audiobook as the narrator used some very unusual accents for the characters. Cassius sounded a lot like Micheal Gambon, Simo (a Gaulish slave) had a scouse accent and Indavara sounded like he was from the east end of London! However, the accents grew on me and I found myself reading the book and giving the characters the accents in my mind!
I would suggest this book to anyone who is a Roman historical fiction fan. Like I said, it is different to most of the other series out there and was a very enjoyable book to read. I’m looking forward to the next one!
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on 30 June 2015
This is the third entry in The Agent of Rome series featuring Cassius Corbulo and his servant Simo and bodyguard Indavara. A seemingly simple mission to the island of Rhodes quickly turns into one helluva test for survival. A grisly murder, an overbearing daughter of the deceased, a sea voyage during the stormy season, a Roman town in Africa being ruthlessly run by one nasty, villainous centurion...these things and more await you in yet another tour de force by author Nick Brown. The book goes along in fine fettle, as has been the case in the first two books in the series, and then, BAM, the quarry chapter. I can't say much as to not do the spoiler thing but I will say that the author does some magic as he teases the reader with clues as to who the mysterious third conspirator is. I was sure I had it figured out and then I thought it was someone else, and then ...well I can only say, well done Nick. From that point on the book is a roller coaster of excitement, brutality and bravery. I had to put the book down occasionally to catch my breath as it were before diving back into the maelstrom of events. The character development of Corbulo as he deals with his bouts of introspection and the growing relationship between Corbulo and his companions, particularly that of the enigmatic Indavara are stand out features of the book.
5 stars - lucky for me I already have the next two books in hand :-)
on 5 November 2015
I thoroughly enjoyed The Far Shore. This is well written, easy to read, informative but also a really good story with great characters. Definitely worth a read and a book that I will read again some time in the future. I did read this out of sequence as I had already read books 1,2 and 4 but that didn't spoil my enjoyment. That said, I am glad I read The Siege first as that really sets a foundation for the other books.
I can safely say I will be picking up The Emperor's Silver sometime soon.
on 19 September 2014
More good storytelling as Corbulus goes from strength to strength as friendship, bonding and trust become stronger and develop in unexpected ways showing that human relationships can cross social and historical barriers without creating chaos in society. Attention to historical detail is very good and doesn't make for boring reading. More tension and excitement coming into the storytelling as Corbulus begins to mature as a human being.
on 28 March 2014
The romans did so much and here is another story. Well written and full of action. You dont want to put it down.