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on 12 May 2011
In the third book of the series, I think Anthony Riches has surpassed the previous books with the story and the first two were fantastic. The action comes thick, fast and quickly, as soon as you open the book and that's fast and there's little let up throughout in an intriguing story that gets better with each page. The bone crunching, blood letting and all out fury of ancient warfare is brought to life so vividly that you almost have to check yourself to make sure you haven't been splashed with blood or wounded whilst reading.

It isn't all smash and gore however, as Mr Riches combines those elements with a story that splits into different arcs where he introduces new characters, kills some off and has laugh out loud humour in certain things the characters say to each other or 'at each other'. Ultimately the story brings all tribal elements and Romans together for the final battle and a few issues that need to be dealt with at The Fortress of Spears.

Central to all this is Marcus Aquila, aka Centurion Corvus who has been taken refuge with the Tungrians after the murder of his father in Rome. As the Hyenas of the Praetorian Guard close in on Aquila and his allies on their mission to destroy him and those who have given him shelter, the book takes you way beyond Hadrian's Wall and deep into enemy territory where the hostile environment wears the soldiers down and those with Calgus are on home soil and work to eliminate those who are not indigenous to the region and some who are.

I won't spoil the story for those who want to read it with specific details but suffice to say, if you like a fascinating story that's authentic, action packed, full of humour, a torrid journey in a horrible environment and descriptive scenes that may make you wince, Fortress of Spears is a book for you as it was for me. Anthony Riches has without doubt ramped up every element in this book, buy it, you will not be disappointed.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 May 2011
I'll not paraphrase the praise that has been heaped on A. Riches for Fortress of Spears but will only make a few comments. First, it is relatively rare for the third installement in a series to be as good as the first two. For me at least, only Scarrow, Cornwell and Cameron have managed to do this. Second, one of the author's forte - which he almost overdoes at times - is his very realistic descriptions of the horrors of war. Somebody has compared him to the lamented Pressfield and there is something to it, although Gates of Fire - for me at least - is still a notch above. Nevertheless, it is superbly written but with a few cliches (the blue-eyed hero fighting gladiator-style with the two swords etc...), although these may be difficult to avoid. As another commentator mentioned, the frumentarii (a mix of secret service and imperial assassins) are depicted as having little choice than to carry out their orders and do their job. However, this is not entirely true since they also seem to take great pleasure in it...
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This is the third book to feature Roman troops in the vicinity of Hadrian's Wall. An added complication to this series is Centurion Corvus who is hiding amongst them under a false name as he is under a death sentence as a result of politics back in Rome. Sent to Britain to be out of the way, his exploits keep bringing him back to the attention of those who want him dead.

So here we have a rather nasty team sent from Rome to capture him amongst the running battles with the local barbarians.

I enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed the previous two books, the author writes with an easy but compelling style and handles action and character very well. The `brotherhood' of the Roman troops, the banter, loyalty and affection is perfectly blended with the action and a sense of loss when characters we have grown fond of do not make it.

I think Anthony Riches is the equal at least of the other famous names in this genre and I incline towards the view that he is probably better, but that is down to personal taste. At the end of this book it looks like the troops might be heading for Germany and that's probably a good move, not many Brits actually left to crush! Were I to offer the author some gentle advice, it might be to park the fugitive aspect of his hero as the formula has been repeated (although very effectively) through three books and Mr Riches obviously has the talent to refresh the series with some new elements for us to enjoy.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 March 2012
With no time for us, or hero Marcus Aquila, to draw breath, the third instalment in Anthony Riches' superb Empire series pushes Centurion `Corvus' even further north, beyond Hadrian's Wall, in pursuit of lord Calgus, who has now committed more than one personal atrocity against the young, wronged Roman officer. Some we know about from the previous two books in the series but the latest is a shocker and sets the pace for Fortress of Spears. However, too merciless even for the locals opposing Rome, Calgus is now a prisoner of the very tribes he sought to unite. They head north and the Second Tungrians, including Corvus, are on his trail. Their goal is the Fortress of Spears, the northern fort of Dinpaladyr, famous for its deadly defences.

Life is even more complicated for Marcus now, he is in love with Felicia, the soldiers' doctor. The possibility of future happiness tantalises Marcus but Rome and Commodus are getting nearer and are more determined than ever to uncover the identity of the supposed traitor Marcus Aquila. Two frumentarii - corn collectors or spies - are sent after Marcus, travelling relentlessly though this most dangerous of borders, accompanied by murderers and rapists. There is one clear way for the spies to distract Marcus from his determined quest for Calgus and that is to kidnap his love. But Marcus is not alone. He is surrounded and supported by a group of prefects, decurions, first spears and centurions that we have grown to care deeply for over the preceding two books. These feelings only intensify in Fortress of Spears.

Wounds of Honour: v. 1 (Empire) focused on the infantry, Arrows of Fury (Empire) has Syrian archers at its heart. In Fortress of Spears, it's the turn of the cavalry and, as with the previous two books, there is much to be enjoyed from Anthony Riches' descriptions of life in a different unit. This is particularly pleasing here, because Marcus is followed on to horseback by some of the larger than life figures that make this series especially enjoyable, notably Arminius and Martos, who have sworn to defend Marcus to the death despite a natural hatred of Rome.

I've said it before and I'll say it again until I'm blue in the face, Anthony Riches' military expertise makes every page both gripping and informative. As the series progresses, you're placed deeper and deeper within the dangerous, vibrant and remote world of the Roman border during the 2nd century AD. You also get a sense of the many different peoples, brought together from across the empire, who manned this border - apart from Rome and yet within its grasp. Marcus and his group of centurion friends are well known to us now and while, in some ways, this third books ends with some closure, their stories thankfully are set to continue in next year's fourth novel The Leopard Sword.
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on 24 April 2012
I've waited until I finished the third book in this series before posting a review of any of them, and for a particular reason. Most of the historical series I've read consist of a new separate story with each book, often defined by a narrator's pause or some such device. Most series are different stories with different themes that build a series.

Wile clearly part of a series, Tony's first three Empire books are different. To me they follow on so closely and seamlessly that the series so far could easily be seen as one huge story spread over three books with appropriate pauses between releases. The stories are readable independently, for sure, but the best will be got from them by reading them one after the other. Quite simply, you can't read one book of this series without wanting to go on with the story. In order to get the best from the story, you need to read them all, and for the best possible results, I would suggest back-to-back.

A second thing that I would say that concerns each of Tony's works is what I consider his greatest strength as an author: The gritty military reality of his tale-telling. I have spent some time in my life, in a civilian situation but alongside men of military units, and there is something so authentic about Tony's characterisation that it felt truly familiar and real. You will find it hard to disbelieve anything about Tony's depiction of the legions, auxiliary troopers, the cavalry, their structure, style, attitude and actions. While no one can confirm exactly how soldiers then spoke and acted, it's hard to believe they were any different from the modern military and Tony has made these ancient soldiers understandable and relevant to the modern reader.

I feel that it is better for me to review the series as a whole, which I have given an appropriate 5 stars of 5, and then add a short section on the individual novel. I find it almost impossible to put down Tony's books and eagerly await the Leopard Sword to see what new direction the series might take.

Book Three

Fortress of spears builds the first three Empire books to a suitably powerful conclusion and ties off a number of important story threads while keeping enough open to allow for great sequel potential. Essentially, it completes the first arc of a story that clearly goes on. This book is much the Return of the Jedi of this trio; a most entertaining and engaging book.

Where the first novel concentrated on life in an auxiliary unit and the second on the Hamian archers of the middle east, this third one has the cavalry at its heart, giving another fresh dimension for the reader. The third book shows the most character growth and complexity, indicating that the series is just going to keep getting better. The best thing about it though, beyond the always-excellent characterisation of the military, was the introduction of two new villains who were loathesome and impressive to an astounding extent.

Well done to Anthony Riches. I now have the newly-released Leopard Sword and cannot wait to see what next awaits Aquila in his new role.
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on 28 April 2011
Once again Anthony Riches has us in full armour,shields,spears,swords and packs as he takes us on the pursuit of the Blue-Noses in north Britannia.We are back again with Marcus Aquila,Ruffuis,Dubnus,Juluis and the rest of the 1st Tungrian and they out for revenge on an enemy army that has killed one of Marcus best friends ,and as part of the select group of infantry chosen to go north with the Petreana cavalry and to take the Selgovaes fortress of spear`s before the rebel army can reach it.As in the first two outings of Marcus, the action comes thick and fast and once again the research and passion that Anthony Riches brings to the page comes at you like a Selgovaes Warrior on to a Roman shield wall and you fill as if you have gone the distant with Marcus , going toe to toe against the Blue-Noses in this all action adventure.I hope we have meny more adventure`s with Marcus and the 1st Tungrian very soon and i for one can not wait.
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on 29 April 2011
"Fortress of Spears" marks the third outing for Antony Riches' erstwhile hero, Marcus Aquila - aka Centurion Corvus - of the 2nd Tungrian Auxiliaries, set in 2nd Century Roman Britain.

Fresh from the climatic battle of "Arrows of Fury", Riches wastes no time in throwing young Marcus back into the fight and the opening of `Fortress' is a bloody mosaic of shield crunching action. What sets Riches apart from many of his peers is his ability to write the big set-piece piece battle, the one-to-one fight scene or the dirty little skirmish with equal aplomb. Anyone who has read the author's previous two works will know that his brand of action comes with a healthy dose of realism. In Riches' world, war is a stinking, filthy business - and a dangerous one to boot.

Riches is heartless with his readers in this aspect: characters - well loved characters in some cases - are killed. Sometimes with drama, but more often than not, with little ceremony in the prose. Someone falls in battle scene, we're not sure who, only that it's a centurion or a tribune (for instance)... only later do we discover who has died and the impact it has on the men that have lived with, worked with and fought alongside him for long.

For me, this is one of Riches' greatest strength as a writer: his merciless pragmatism about the horror warfare. The reality he brings to these action sequences, the confusion, the fear and indeed the heroism of the men - on both sides - is brought into stark relief in a way I've not read since Pressfield's "Gates of Fire."

All that said, it would be wrong to think that this novel (and the others in the "Empire" sequence) survive on action alone. Each of the characters are well drawn and fully realised. The hunted Marcus Aquila, the indefatigable Dubnus, the grizzled Frontinius and more, each has their own motivations and raison d'etre that go far beyond simple plot mechanics.

In this latest outing, Riches throws some new faces into the mix, the nominal villains Rapax and Tiberius Varius Excingus. I say nominal, because in Riches' brutally real Britannia, these men are only serving their emperor and doing what it takes to get their job done.

In this case, their job is to hunt down and kill Marcus Aquila. And they're fully prepared to do what it takes to get it done.

It's rare that so much care is lavished over the antagonists, and I can't help but think that the author was particularly gleeful in his execution of these two `frumentarii' (translated literally as `corn collectors' but this was a nom de voyage for the emperor's secret service). Rapax and Excingus blaze a bloody and ruthless trail through Britannia, using every advantage available to them to bring their quarry down - up to and including the kidnapping of his pregnant wife-to-be. Nice guys these are not, but as depicted by Riches, you understand why they do what they do. Except, perhaps, these chaps enjoy their jobs a little too much for you warm to them!

The plot of Fortress of Spears is multi-faceted, taking us with Marcus on his journey to the titular stronghold, the quest of the frumentarii to bring him down, the newly made Centurion Dubnus and his mission to retrain a failed squad into effective soldiers and much more besides. By focusing on the auxillaries rather than the legions, Riches affords himself - and us - a broader range of military action than would otherwise be feasible. Anyone that has read the first two novels in the series will realise that Riches is taking us through the various arms of the Roman military. "Wounds of Honour" is primarily an infantry novel, "Arrows of Fury" focuses on the archers and here, in "Fortress of Spears" we get a grunt's eye view of the cavalry unequalled since Breem's "Eagle in the Snow."

I think that with "Fortress of Spears", Riches has come of age. The Empire series as a whole are amongst the finest historical fiction novels I've ever read, but "Fortress of Spears" is the best to date. A good sign, as the author is getting better and better, book by book.

Riches writes with an effortless style but his works are anything but light-touch. Sumptuously researched, action-packed and containing plot lines that twist, turn and surprise, these novels are a must for any reader of historical fiction. No longer a new voice in the genre, Riches is setting a new benchmark in quality for the action-historical.
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on 28 May 2011
As others have commented, there is currently a rich seam of writers covering the days of the Roman Empire. If this is a niche of historical fiction that interests you, you will either have to be a prolific reader to enjoy the current quality of output or a selective one. In either case, the Empire series by Anthony Riches deserves to be high on your reading list.
Riches conveys a convincing sense of life in the legions, or more accurately life in auxiliary units attached to the Roman army. There is brutality, humour, fear and ferocity; there is the constant sense of the fragility of life on the fringes of Roman rule; and there is a surging stream of adrenalin that drives forward a well-written story of a fugitive trying to evade his pursuers at the same time as leading his men into bloody battles with rebellious tribes. The author has plotted a fine storyline that I suspect most readers will find hard to avoid following up each time a new novel appears.
Anyone new to this author should definitely start with 'Wounds of Honour' as it sets the scene for a gripping and potentially long-running series. Momentum builds through 'Arrows of Fury' and the climax of a campaign around Hadrian's Wall is reached in 'Fortress of Spears'. With a chorus of good writers luring readers with well-researched stories of ancient Rome, Anthony Riches more than deserves his growing success and aficionados of historical fiction should give him a try.
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on 29 May 2011
Without wanting to repeat what the other reviewers have already written, this is a fantastic book which demonstrates a keen and inciteful knowledge of the Roman military and of the local geography. It is very well formulated with intriguing characters and action by the bucket load.
I enjoyed the last two books, but this is the best yet and 'wraps up' Marcus' adventures in Briton whilst still leaving enough loose ends to continue the story elsewhere.

One of the things that impressed me about Mr Riches was that he has actually walked in the footsteps of his characters, trekking the length of Hadrian's Wall in full Roman kit in aid of 'Help for Heroes'. When I heard this I felt compelled to donate, even though I have never met or do not know the author. Anyone who would perform such a gruelling and selfless act in aid of such a worthy cause deserves my admiration and all the sponsorship he can get!

Well done Mr Riches for not only treating us to another military masterpiece, but for also helping those men and women who keep our country safe.

I look forward to your next adventure.
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To be honest I absolutely love a title that takes me on a journey especially when I get to march alongside the ancestors and those who have gone before. Here in the third offering in his Empire series, Anthony returns to the Tungrians as the Legion marches to finish the natives uprising for once and for all. As usual it's got great action sequences, emotional conflict and some seriously apt prose as the battle gets down and dirty with men dying for each inch of ground. Back that up with great prose alongside an author who plays for keeps and you know that there will be some heavy losses with friends from previous excursions falling by the wayside. Finally, if you want entertainment, battles and action sequences then this title will definitely fulfil the brief for you and a great addition for fans of Bernard Cornwell and Simon Scarrow.
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