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4.5 out of 5 stars
Defender of Rome (Unabridged)
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 16 March 2012
Two years after Valerius' defence of Colonia against Boudicca in "Hero of Rome", the eponymous characters is in Rome. Changed by the events he lived through he is a darker, slightly hollow man. Struggling to find a path, he finds himself landed with a new task by the unstable emperor Nero: to root out and bring to 'justice' a rabble rouser, a leader of the sect of Christians in Rome.

Plagued by a frail and ill sister, a splintered family relationship, the uncertain moods of the emperor and the machinations of those who wield power under Nero, including the prefect of the Praetorians, Valerius' investigation, aided by gladiator friends, unearths a number of secrets, some of which cut deep. The story builds to a massive crescendo, set to a backdrop of another great event of the era.

Defender is, in short, a great book and a worthy successor to the excellent Hero of Rome. There are three things that particularly impressed me:

1. Valerius' character. In Hero, we were introduced to a man who was still young and relatively full of promise, even optimistic and loving. Defender sees him changed. Doug has done an excellent job of painting the character of a man who has suffered the things Valerius did in Britannia. It feels like a natural progression and is therefore perfectly done.

2. The portrayal of Nero. That emperor has had a lot of treatment by a lot of authors before now, and yet this did not feel old or samey for some reason. There is about the character an oily wickedness, mixed with a childish excitement that really brings him to life. You will truly hate this emperor.

3. The way the Christians are portrayed. Until now the best such portrayal in Roman fiction I had seen was Simon Scarrow's Eagle in the Sand. This now rivals it, for sure. This period of the church is so vague as nothing was truly codified until Constantine I, and it is all too easy to imagine the early church as very similar to the later Catholic one, but with a more Judao-Roman feel. Doug's treatment is more like an offshoot of Judaism, which, of course, it was. It is sensitively handled and well done, without being preachy or particularly pro or anti. It is objective, given that the lead character is a pagan.

All in all, I would recommend that anyone who's read Hero of Rome dive in and read Defender. If you haven't, just read both!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 13 September 2011
Having read all of Douglas Jacksons previous books and thoroughly enjoyed them, I was really looking forward to Defender of Rome but to be honest I didn't know if this story would live up to his last, Hero of Rome which for me was an absolutely brilliant story set in Britannia at the time of the Iceni revolt in AD 61. The main character Gaius Valerius Verrens returns from Britannia slightly battered and bruised after his escapades in Hero and finds himself a civilian (partly) and working in very close proximity to the Emperor Nero, who is beginning to lose his sanity as the story depicts.

As Nero sees what he identifies as a threat coming in the form of 'a cult' in the people who follow the martyred Christus (Jesus) of a few decades before, Valerius finds himself in the middle of a dark world where he is bound to serve Rome and his Emperor but he is also concerned for the safety of those around him and his family as the shadowy world of politics, duty and insanity combine in a book that is a great thriller set in ancient Rome.

One of the great things about Mr Jacksons books is that he creates characters, some of whom you genuinely care about and others who you would like to take a sword to as he so cleverly does again with Defender of Rome what he has with previous works. This is a wonderfully created novel where you as the reader can easily imagine the world where Douglas Jacksons characters live their lives, experience their danger and almost live amongst them as you 'see' the novel unfold.

There are a few very good authors out there at the moment writing about the Roman Empire and all its highs and lows and for me, Douglas Jackson is up there with the very best of them, fantastic book and highly recommended.

Bringing Valerius out of the legion did work and I think it shows the versatility of the author to create something different but to still maintain that intrigue and genuine belief you too are walking through the streets of Ancient Rome. If you like this genre, then I would highly recommend Douglas Jackson books, get them all, you won't be disappointed.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 August 2011
Review

I was totally blown away by this book, the last Verrens title "Hero of Rome" was in my opinion a step up in writing from Douglas Jacksons previous books, books that i totally enjoyed, but were not in the same league as "Hero of Rome". Defender of Rome takes yet another leap forward.

This book keeps the brilliantly written characters the flowing gripping action and pace and story arc that the last book had, but then adds in the new angle of political intrigue in the frightening world of Emperor Nero, so well told in this book i was scared for Varrens and still now i wonder which is the real Nero and which is the actor?

This book clearly catapults Douglas into the top flight of Roman Historical Fiction Writers and very much deserves to hit the top of the best seller charts.

I have read what i consider to be many of the best books past and present and this holds it own with a heck of a lot of them.

I very much look forward to the next book by Douglas, and am very intrigued by the forthcoming Doomsday Testament coming out under the name James Douglas, if as im sure the writing quality transfers across then its going to be a great read.

Book Description

Gaius Valerius Verrens returns to Rome from the successful campaign against Boudicca in Britain. Now hailed a `Hero of Rome', Valerius is not the man he once was - scarred both physically and emotionally by the battles he has fought, his sister is mortally ill, his father in self-imposed exile. And neither is Rome the same city as the one he left.

The Emperor Nero grows increasingly paranoid. Those who seek power for themselves whisper darkly in the emperor's ears. They speak of a new threat, one found within the walls of Rome itself. A new religious sect, the followers of Christus, deny Nero's divinity and are rumoured to be spreading sedition.

Nero calls on his `Hero of Rome' to become a `Defender of Rome', to seek out this rebel sect, to capture their leader, a man known as Petrus. Failure would be to forfeit his life, and the lives of twenty thousands Judaeans living in Rome. But as Valerius begins his search, a quest which will take him to the edge of the empire, he will discover that success may cost him nearly as much as failure.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
If you're a fan of Historical Fiction, then the odds are that you've noticed the steady rise of an author by the name of Douglas Jackson, his stories are vivid, the cast spectacular and of course his writing style wonderfully balances the needs of combat with the smarts of lulls and peaks to keep the reader enthralled.

Here in the second book in his latest series (the first being Hero of Rome) Valerius returns triumphant from the previous title to face the slings and arrows or Roman Politics as well as the madness of the Emperor only to be manipulated on a highly dangerous mission that could cost as much to him for success as for failure. It's cleverly written, the plot line is fast moving and of course the reader is left on tenterhooks from start to finish as to the fate of many of the cast. Add to this great characterisation and a lead hero who is fully rounded and it's a title that demonstrates just how much Douglas has grown from his first book. Excellent stuff.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 16 August 2011
Well what can i say,Douglas Jackson has done it again,at first i was not sure if i was going to like a political adventure for our hero Valerius after the blood and guts of the first book,but it was not long before i was totality enmeshed in the struggle for power in Emperor Nero Rome. Against the back drop of the rise of Christianity ,which i found really interesting, our story is laced with action and suspense that for me made it a great read.I must confess that i had forgotten that Valerius had lost his hand and as a lefty myself i was intrigued in how he coped with this handicap in a world that was so right-handed.Once again Douglas Jackson has used his detail research to put us into the heart of Rome and let`s us walk in the footsteps of Valerius as he try`s to cope with the dirty work that Emperor Nero has put his way.It`s been a very good year for the Roman novel, so far we have had Harry Sidebottom,Anthony Riches,John Stack and M.C.Scott and now Douglas Jackson Defender of Rome is right up there with them as top draw reading,and now i can not wait fot the next outing of Valerius.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 February 2015
Broader in scope and bigger in scale, Defender is a big step up from Hero (which I thought was great).

The plot is complex yet never feels confusing. The author writes with a clarity whilst avoiding it coming across as simply plot exposition.

Intrigue radiates from every page in a wonderfully realised Rome.

Cross follows double cross and the author creates a real sense of paranoia and conspiracy at every turn.

Verrens is substantially fleshed out and feels like a much more rounded and fully realised character than he did in Hero. Theres also a well drawn supporting cast all adding to the immersive world created by Doug Jackson.

Discovering this series has been a joy, on to the third one now and the fourth is waiting by my bedside.

Recommended
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 13 December 2012
This series of books about Gaius Valerius Verrens is up there with the best of any other writer in this genre. It truly is excitng to read and I lost sleep because of it as I kept saying just another chapter. The main character is a very real person and you really do care for him and want to see what happens next. All other characters are well rounded and full of all the human frailties that make us what we are. If you have read the Eagle series then you will certainly not be disappointed by Mr. Jackson. Buy them and become a part of rome and all its madness. They are so good you can smell it!!!!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 August 2011
I loved Hero of Rome, one of the most vivid and involving fictionalised accounts of Roman Britain I've read. Previously I had enjoyed Douglas Jackson's Caligula and Claudius and, while I was sorry that those stories had finished, I quickly warmed to brave and honourable Valerius. I was lucky enough to buy a copy of Defender of Rome early at a literary festival. It cost me an awful lot more than it would have done if I'd waited. But I couldn't wait.

Defender of Rome follows the story of Gaius Valerius Verrens on his return to Rome from Britannia, after his experiences during the war against Boudicca, which earned Valerius his crown and title of Hero of Rome. It also cost him dear, so dear that his battle will continue as he finds a way to overcome it. If you've not read Hero of Rome, the first in this series, I suggest you waste no further time. It is a superb tale of Rome's legions and towns under threat from the the British tribes and the sheer courage of a young man who has the ability to see both sides of a war, while fighting for what he believes. With the Britons literally pounding on the walls, there is sheer excitement here mixed with poignancy and fate. This is a novel I heartily recommend you read and once you've finished it you'll want to read Defender of Rome.

This second novel finds us and Valerius back in Nero's Rome. As Hero of Rome, Valerius has a certain immunity from the whims of the emperor but these are quickly eroded as the agents around Nero, and the emperor himself, discover in Valerius a suitable agent or pawn to stop the spread of the new disease that seeps through every strata of Rome's society - Christianity. It boils down to a choice between his own death, and that of every Judaean in Rome, or he must find the Rock of Jesus, Petrus, and persuade him to turn himself in. Of course, these aren't ordinary deaths that blight the future of Valerius - think lions, women imprisoned in cages too small to sit in and human torches.

Valerius discovers that Christianity has spread, even beyond Rome to the legions on the eastern borders. It has also reached within his own family.

But what makes Defender of Rome such a fine and fast novel to read is not just the action, and it doesn't let up, it's the characterisation of the hero himself. Valerius is complex. He too becomes obsessed with Petrus but for different reasons than those that make the Christians willingly offer themselves up for sacrifice for him. Valerius' valour draws men and women to him and it takes him and them to the extremes of what they can endure. He is a Roman but his nature goes deeper than that.

Along the way we have other characters to grapple with, including Nero himself, the monstrous artist, his wife Poppaea and her friend Fabia, Valerius' team of gladiators, Seneca, Nero's secret agents, Petrus and Saul. The women here, as in Hero of Rome, stand tall despite the fact that they can be chattals to those on their own side and lambs to the slaughter to the enemy. The call of Christianity here as an eternal salvation, a way out, rings true indeed. One of the things, though, that I most like about these books is the style. Just as in past novels, Douglas Jackson's descriptions of the gladiatorial arena or the Wicker Man have evoked real emotion in me, in Defender of Rome, there is more of the same and it is as powerful and as poignant as ever.

For a second book, in what I hope is a long series, the ending is totally satisfying, leaving any future stories wide open. The only problem with buying this book a month ahead of its publication is that I have longer to wait for the next one.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I enjoyed the previous book, "Hero of Rome", but it had no massive differentiator, and I found the hero, Valerius , ever so slightly bland, but the book ended with him slightly damaged. So I picked up "Defender of Rome" with interest to see where the author was going with the character.

Valerius is back in Rome, mentally and physically damaged but recognition of his actions in Britain has brought him to Nero's unwanted attention. Nero is mad, bad and dangerous and sets Valerius an impossible task, to track down the leader of the Christians that he sees as a threat to the Empire. So this is a dark and dangerous story and one you will be unable to predict where it is taking you. Valerius is between a rock and a hard place, is forced to do things he doesn't want to and it appears that however he is manipulated, people he loves will probably end up dead. Most novels that play with the theme of a central figure with integrity and determination always allow the last minute clever escape, not so this one and that is what now makes Valerius a far more complex and interesting character. For those who like a bit of action there is also plenty of that but within a dark and dangerous political landscape. The story of growing Christianity in the Roman Empire gave an interesting and complex dynamic to the story and Douglas Jackson has populated it with a range of detailed and diverse characters.

Dark, thought provoking and recommended.
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Gaius Valerius Verrens has returned to Rome and is made a Hero Of Rome by the Emperor, Nero for his actions and bravery in Britain. Of course being in Nero's spotlight isn't always a good thing as Verrens finds out after having been solicited by Nero and then given an almost impossible task, apprehending Petrus, the leader of a new religious sect that threatens to undermine Roman society and politics.
The author has given us a story of much intrigue and has populated the main story line with many obstacles for Verrens to negotiate and overcome in this exciting sequel. While the first book was of a military mindset, this one is more of a detective story set mostly in and around Rome itself. That in and of itself shows the author's ability to move his main character into a situation involving different skills while building on the lessons learned and confidence gained in his earlier experiences.
A page turning tale that brings one face to face with power politics, religious fervor and the struggle to satisfy a capricious leader, I heartily recommend this book and series.
5-stars.
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