on 19 August 2011
I enjoyed this story for much of the time, but a few of the elements were worryingly grating: in both this and his second story, the plot elements are very similar: hero fights against over-whelming odds, gets injured, best friends are killed, Roman discipline, technology and tactical superiority save the day, hero gets drunk with mates and argues with Caesar who puts up with it.
But worst of all, the man who edits the story has not done a very good job. There were cases when the sentences did not make sense, where words were spelled incorrectly [ e.g. keep soldiers on a tight `reign' rather than `rein'] and some of the sentences were poorly constructed with repetition of words within them. A good editor should have spotted all these flaws.
I am no English teacher, but this is something I have rarely seen in published works, and would prefer not to.
on 13 November 2014
I felt cheated a few times by this book: at first, I noticed it is the first one in a series, with a drug dealer type "first one free" technique. I feared I would get to the end only to be told that I need to buy the next book. Well, it's not like that. The Invasion of Gaul is a very round novel, with a classical beginning and end structure and a strictly chronological depiction of events. The ending is even built up, as the characters talk about it throughout. I am now however itching to read the next in the series, not because anything exciting is just about to happen to the heroes, but because I have come to know and like them and I have become too drawn into their lives not to follow them further. Besides, the price of the next books in the series is minuscule, and the author makes a point of it:
"I do, however, have control over the price of the electronic editions, and I have deliberately set them as low as the publishing system will allow. The reason for this is that I am passionate about both reading and writing, and I believe that books are becoming too pricey. If things continue with the current trend, people will stop reading unless they're quite wealthy, and will rely on TV. I would rather lower the price and encourage people to read."
Next thing I came to notice is how close the action in the books follows Caesar's De Bello Gallico. A quick research and a note at the end of the book reveal the author's full disclosure though: his purpose was to fictionalize Caesar's dry historical account in order to make it readable for the contemporary world. I'm not sure how I feel about this: while I feel it is a laudable enterprise, I think less of myself if I need fictionalization of the classics in order to access them. That's why I just started reading De Bello Gallico and will take up on Fronto's next adventures as soon as I finish it. So I'm guessing it's good then: a book that makes me read another book is always a good sign.
I do prefer fictionalizations in the style Charles Frazier writes, heavily documented and filling in with licences only when historical sources are mute. I did expect the main character, Fronto, to be drawn from some document or funerary stella and was a bit disappointed upon finding out it has not been the case. But Mr. Turney is excused considering this novel is spun solely out of passion for ancient Rome and he is not (or was not, at the time of writing) a professional writer.
That is not to say Marius' Mules is not heavily documented: on the contrary, the reader will be introduced to a lot of Roman terminology, way of thinking and military strategy. So much so that the book reminded me at times of Sun Tzu's Art of War. And I was always itching to play Rome: Total War and recreate Fronto's battles. It is just the characters that are plucked out of thin air, but they're all rounded out so well that it makes them all entirely credible.
An author's stated intention and a big plus of the book is to look at the men behind Caesar's successes and how they contributed to them. It is obvious that Julius Caesar could not have become the great commander he was without a number of supporters, but it is very easy to overlook the people whose name left no mark on the historical records.
A fault of the story is the chapter investigating the low morale of the army just before meeting the representatives of the Aedui tribes, and for now I cannot tell if the sub-plot is too thin because of the writing, because of the sources or due to a discrepancy between the Roman and the Western contemporary way of thinking. I did protest throughout about some lines that sound very British and very out of place when said by a Roman soldier, but I guess there's no getting around this: a Roman soldier would have an equivalent that would make little to no sense when translated literally from Latin. Another way around this would have been writing the whole damn book in Latin, but then we'd be talking about a completely different sort of an enterprise.
Just one last mention, and a very striking one at that: there is a very strong cinematographic feel to the book. Movements and costumes are described in so much detail that it would be a struggle not to view the action as a motion picture in the reader's mind. This book almost screams about being turned into a TV mini-series. I hope it will be, sooner rather than later and I would make an attempt at doing it myself, would it not be for the historical costumes and the huge number of extras involved, details that spell big budget production all along.
And that's pretty much it. I will probably have to say a lot more about not only Fronto, but also the likes of Aulus Crispus, Balbus or Ingenuus at the end of the seventh book. I am convinced that, would I have read this as a child, or even in my teen years, Fronto would have become one of my heroes, along with Winnetou the Apache, Tarzan of the Apes, D'Artagnan or Robin Hood. I can only hope that there is still a generation of kids out there who get their heroes from fictionalized history rather than Disney merchandise.
The author of Marius's Mules has made a number of key decisions in planning what will (hopefully) be a long series of historical novels. Firstly, he has selected a model, in this case the professional officers of the Roman Army behave not unlike professional officers of the British Army - the enemy being of less importance much of the time than internal loyalties and rivalries. This worked very well indeed in the novel "Imperial Governor" by George Shipway and S.J.A Turney uses it to advantage here. This model gives us men who, while living in an alien world, address it much as we would. Secondly, he has decided to proceed (as armies proceed) slowly. This novel only takes us up to the defeat of Ariovistus. It will take a number of novels to complete De Bello Gallico. This means characters and their actions are not hurried along but develop at their own pace. The result will be immensely pleasing to a lot of readers, especially those who do their homework on the subject.
I could not quite stretch to five stars (though 4.5 is what I wanted) because I found the characters suffered to a degree from Richard Sharpe Syndrome, they were often either all Good or all Bad. The hatchet job on P. Licinius Crassus is excellent for plot (a rich useless aristo just like Sir Henry Simmerson) but not, I think, for history. The sketch of C. Julius Caesar was much more complex however, he is clearly a leader of men, and a bit of a rotter in the eyes of our hero, the stern M. Falerius Fronto.
However, who knows what lies ahead for I see we are off to fight the fearsome Belgae in the next volume.
on 17 December 2013
Like other reviewers I've waded through ( and enjoyed ) the Scarrow, R W Peake etc Roman series. I like books that run in a series because when you get to book 2 you are working with old friends. I liked the attitude of the hero ( Fronto ) in this book .. I hadn't really thought about a senior army officer telling Ceasar that some of his ideas were crap. I had sort of got the idea that what Ceasar said went .. a guy you just didn't disagree with if you wanted to get up next morning. But here we are .. one of Ceasar's top officers having a bit of rebel in him, getting away with murder and facing Ceasar down occasionally. A rebel with a cause, a guy loved by his men, a leader who makes his legion top dogs and even though he rattles Ceasar's cage now again Ceasar tolerates it because Fronto is a "special one". There is a great line in a later book where a Gaul tells Fronto "the tenth is a legion of chaos - that's what makes them the best". A reference to the spirit of the tenth. So in book 1 we get to meet the principal characters as they trundle about fighting and drinking and fighting and drinking and ... er, well more fighting and drinking really .. and a bit of marching and digging. But if you read Roman stories you know they are all like that .. it's the characters that make the story and I reckon in Fronto we have a real character. I even found that a couple of times I was thinking .. "Fronto .. you got to cut down the drinkng man and you need a wash and a shave .. you're really going to blow it with Ceasar this time". I mean, just how do you get away with snoring and farting when Ceasar is trying to plan tomorrow's battle ! Excellent read ...
on 27 January 2012
Firstly let me say I enjoyed this book and will download the next. The plot is well thought out and the novel drives nicely towards its conclusion.
There are however some areas of writing that desperately needed an editor's skill.
The dialogue is often contrived and probably the weakest area of the book, but this is balanced with fantastic action sequences which are very well written.
At times the characters resort to slapstick comedy, which doesn't quite work especially when it comes from the senior officers within the campaign. I doubt very much if an army commander, let alone Caesar would have put up with even a small measure of the kind of thing that Fronto, the main character gets away with. The end of the campaign's staff meeting where senior and staff officers are drunk, falling asleep, falling over etc not only lack credibility, it detracts from the very good parts of the novel.
The other area of weakness in the novel is during the final battle when after pages and chapters of building to the climax, the author suddenly goes back to his main character and what he has been doing whilst the battle, which he is not directly involved in, has been going on. Taking you back in time and effectively grinding the pace to a halt.
This was not only very poor writing and clumsily handled, but took away from what up until then had been a page turning rollercoaster of a ride. A very basic error from an author who had shown he was more than capable of writing a great action novel.
I did like the explanation of Roman and Latin terms at the beginning of each chapter, which enabled the reader to read the chapter with knowledge and without having to refer to some end of book glossary. This was innovative and worked well.
Overall a very good read which could have been a great read.
In my opinion it deserves 3.5 stars, as that is not possible I have given it 4, but could have/ should have been a 5.
I always enjoy a good Roman Legion novel - and I was definitely brought to take a chance on this one by it popping up in my Amazon recommendations, and reading positive reviews on the site. It's a funny edition of a book - self-published or somethiing? Not sure - but the typesetting is a little odd.
However, that doesn't detract from a good story - and the reader jumps right into the action with Caesar's Legions being tasked with taking on the Helvetii as they move along the Roman border. We see much of the story from the perspective of Marcus Falerius Fronto, commander of the Tenth Legion, who is known and trusted by Caesar and thus finds himself the recipient of more information than your average Mule. The second part of the book follows with action against Ariovistus as he encroaches onto the territories of the Roman allies, the Aedui.
This is a great story, told with sparse language. Much of the book is conversational; however this is broken up by long passages of the actual battles, told very well and with great action-packed sequences. I like that the story is focused so strongly on the lives and narratives of the legionaries themselves. I certainly felt that the way the Legions were organised and the way of life in the camps and on the march was realistic; I'm not in a position to critically judge, but it all felt very realistic as a reader.
I wondered, while reading this book, what it would be like to read a book written from the other angle - from the perspective of the Helvetii, the Aedui, the Germanic tribesmen and the others who met up with Caesar and the Roman Legions. It would be a great read as well, I'm sure. I've read The Druid King by Norman Spinrad which tells the tale of Vercingetorix, which was a great book. As was The Last King by Michael Curtis Ford, about Mithridates, admittedly at the other end of the Roman Empire. But still, there's great scope for more books written from the point of view of those who felt the wrath and might of Rome. Here's hoping.
Highly recommended, and there is a second book sitting in my pile of books to read, Marius' Mules II: The Belgae, which should be just as enjoyable.
on 22 July 2013
I read a lot of historical fiction and this had been on my kindle for some time to read. In the end I opted to pick up and read Marius' Mules and was surprised how much it gripped me from the off.
Do not think this will be about Marius but understand this is actually about Caesar and his "picking fights with Gauls".
The reason this was such a good read was the character development. I ended up enjoying and wishing for things to happen to certain characters just to see what the end would be. This is one of the few times I have laughed out loud with historical fiction. It reminds me a lot of Simon Scarrow's earlier books with Macro and Cato; do not be put off however, as this is high praise indeed.
This has got to be the best couple of pounds I have ever spent; I had even purchased the next before I had finished this one.
I am not overly sure how accurate this all to be but I am not one to be picking through this kind of thing - all I am after is a good story. In the end the portrayal of Caesar was refreshing and a few could take note of the alternative angle portrayed here.
Anyway, I am off to read the next book!
When I was asked to look up this title I have to say I was unsure!
Its not main stream publication, its got little or not marketing behind it...etc. etc...
But im a sucker for a roman historical fiction book, and the tag line:
"It is perhaps time we looked at Caesar more as a scheming warmonger than a heroic warrior."
This appealed to me, ole JC gets his behind kissed a bit too much so it would be good to see him portrayed a little differently.
This is the up to date more edited version, an advantage over the big publishing houses, the author has the ability to go back do those corrections and updates and edits and then resubmit them for the next print run very easily. especially for the kindle versions of this book.
This is a great title, with a great bunch of characters, set in a pivotal period of history. really is a winner on so many levels, don't miss it!
on 22 April 2011
This story is a well paced, page-turner, charting Julius Caesar's invasion of Gaul. If you are a fan of Historical Fiction from the likes of Simon Scarrow, Conn Iggulden and David Gemmell, then this really is a book for you!
With great characterisation, bloody battle scenes and political wranglings, the author tells a very different story of one of Rome's greatest Generals; revealing him to be a power-hungry politician rather than a hero of his people.
Written from the POV of the men under his leadership, you get a believable depiction of not only the man, but those under his command.
As an avid reader, I would have to say that this has been one of my favourite books this year.
A bloody triumph!
on 27 February 2013
After reading this first book in the series,Iwas amazed how accurate the author portrayed his characters, this is about the workings of the Roman army and the life of Ceaser, as he battled his way through the hordes of gauls, belgae etc. youare gripped by the action and bloodshed which takes placeand how Fronto one of the trusted few gets through it all even though he suffers various wounds in the process at the moment I am reading the second in the series, which is as well written as the first one, Consequently I will be reading the complete series in due course and am sure will enjoy every one, Therefore Iwould recommend these books to anyone interested in the Roman army and the conquering of the various peoples they have to fight. Very enjoyable reads indeed. D Bowen.