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3.8 out of 5 stars158
3.8 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 May 2014
I was initially a bit weary and hesitated before ordering this book, mainly because I was afraid that it would be yet another “swords and sandals” novel to add to the quickly growing number already published. While it is that, there is also quite a bit more to it and this book was mostly a good and exciting read, even if a few things did not work out very well for me.

To begin with the (numerous) positive elements, the topic chosen is original, with the story starting with a fast pace as our four heroes, soldiers from one of Hadrian Wall’s garrisons who were of hunting beyond it discover that it has been overrun. They also quickly discover that the whole of the Wall has been breached and the garrisons destroyed by a vast and mysterious coalition of “barbarians” (Scots, Picts, Saxons), along with insurrections from some of the Brigantes and desertions from some of the Roman (semi-barbarian or descendants from Germanic troops) auxiliaries.

Little is historically known about the real nature of the simultaneous attacks, except that they seem to have been rather devastating. They allowed for long-range raids to reach deep into Roman Britain and pillage it quite thoroughly. Moreover, two of the Island’s most senior officers were vanquished and killed when trying to stop the invaders. The exact circumstances of their defeats and demise are largely unknown, but the author’s reconstruction, and the assumption they make about the Romans having initially seriously underestimated the opposition are plausible and even likely.

Then you get the Roman counter-attack, with a contingent of Rome’s crack troops under the overall command of the highly talented Count Theodosius, who was one of Emperor Valentinian’s best generals and top “trouble shooters”, to use modern parlance. Here that authors have chosen to have him accompanied by his fellow general and countryman Magnus Maximus, and his son, the future Emperor Theodosius (but here only Theodosius the Younger), with both acting as his subordinate generals. While there is no firm evidence for the presence of either historical character, this is also just about plausible, especially in the case of Magnus Maximus who is later found as holding the top military command in Britannia. The re-conquest and clearing out of the raiders and barbarians is rather well told. The trap to draw in one war band and the main battle towards the end are also good, with the later showing in particular by this time the Romans barely had an edge against Barbarian formations, especially when these outnumbered them.

There are however a number of glitches, issues and inconsistencies throughout the book. This spoilt it a bit for me; hence the four stars, because this is a good and rather exciting read, instead of the five that it would have deserved otherwise. Some are just details, such as having our four heroes at the beginning of the novel going of hunting in full armour and battle gear, which is a bit implausible given the weight of mail armour.

Others were a bit more annoying and simply did not ring true, such as having Magnus Maximus calling Count Theodosius “Papa Theo” or having the instigator and main leader of the Barbarian conspiracy turn out to be someone who simply does not speak perfect Latin, contrary to what the novel shows this Victorinus doing earlier on. There are a few other such glitches but perhaps the worst for me was the end where the authors simply compress a decade and mess up the chronology to show Magnus Maximus rebelling to avenge the execution of “Papa Theo” and because of his jealousy with regards to his son recently nominated Emperor in the East. In reality, Magnus’ rebellion took place in AD 382, almost a decade after the older Theodosius’ death, and four years after his son had become Emperor.
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on 1 November 2015
Personally, and I have read some of the other reviews, especially the one star ones, I liked this book. I liked the pace, I liked the four main characters. I did not see any inconsistencies in the timeline, as I do not know anything about this period of history, and had no idea about the rebellion at this time. I think some reviewers have got a bee in their bonnets about historical accuracy. let me remind them it is a work of fiction loosely based on historical events, just as Bernard Cornwell's books are. Dramatic licence is allowed (its a work of fiction, a story). If anything, I think The Gaius Valerius Verrens books of Douglas Jackson do Roman battles a bit better, but I still liked the plot, the characters, and everything really. The only "beef" I have is a natural history one: bloody rabbits kepy popping up all over the place! Although the Romans may have introduced rabbits, they were further introduced by the Normans and did not become common in the British countryside until Mediaeval times. However, that is probably not well known, and at least the bunnies don't turn into killer zombies and spoil the plot!
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on 4 March 2016
For those who are fascinated by the exciting history of the later Roman Empire will enjoy this romp. Richard Denham rightly points out that few people know about the importance of the year 367 in English history. Hadrian's wall was breached by a conspiracy of Scots, Irish and Germanic tribes who shook the Western Roman Empire, which struggled to recover. The crisis is experienced through the eyes of four soldiers: Justinus, Paternus,Leocardius and Vitalianus who become known as "Heroes of the Wall". This fast moving story takes us through the attack and the Roman response. The story also examines the complicated story of the rise of Christianity and the Pagan response to it.

I feel that the characters could have been fleshed out more, they are a bit wooden. The plot lines are good with some surprising story lines and endings.I enjoyed the book and i certainly recommend it to lovers of historical fiction.
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on 20 October 2014
Unfortunately, "The Wall" - an opening novel in what must be at least a duology by Richard Denham & M J Trow suffers from both historical inaccuracy, modern vernacular and phrases uttered from the mouths of ancient characters, sloppy grammar, and being "overstuffed". By the latter, it is meant that the authors have crammed every Roman word, place, action and belief they have ever learned about Roman Britain into four hundred plus pages. The result is a poor effort that will barely have the likes of Simon Scarrow or Harry Sidebottom yawning about lower book sales, let alone quaking in their caligulae.
Yes, I am being harsh, but given the advent of the e-book, the opening of the novel marketplace to anyone to write their beloved opus has meant a swamping of mediocre offerings and this is one of those. This is not to say there isn't a faint glimmer of promise. The authors know a little bit about the period - or, at least, have read a lot about it - and, at times, the action of the novel - usually when a two-character interaction is occurring - keeps the reader interested enough to turn the page. Possibly what saves it is the four characters, which gives the authors four chances at hooking the reader. Given the differing personalities you're likely to find one interests you. In my case, Vitalis. Leocadius will appeal to 20-somethings but he's, well, he probably reads FHM magazine; Paternus is dour but moral, a candidate for Stockholm Syndrome...in this case Votidinari Syndrome; Justinus is most like a character you'd find in Scarrow's books. Almost a bit like Centurion Macro, if more two-dimensional.
The meat of the book concerns four limitanei (more on that term later) as they chance upon the Picti, Anacotti, and Saxons massacres at Hadrian's Wall, then race south to Eboracum (York) where a bout of lying to the Praeses, Ammianus of the VI Victrix, means that Justinus, Vitalis, Paternus, and Leocadius all get promotions and sent on a uplifting tour. What follows is the a liberal historical retelling of "The Great Conspiracy" - a real event in the history of Roman Britain. We swiftly open with our authors first attempt at a battle scene with the additional massacre of 120 arrogant Romans. The descriptive narrative is clearly aimed at teenage boys, but the gist is that the enemy is epitomized by one Valentius, leader of the barbarians.
After that the narrative moves to Londinium where we follow our four "heroes" as they advance their careers, impregnate daughters of consuls (and others), hook up with barbarian princesses, meddle in Mithras v Christianity problems (we get to meet Pelagius, with his heretical defiance of Rome and Bishop Dalmatius), start working for the future Emperor Theodosius, indulge in gladiatorial combat (the scene with Leocadius fighting in the arena is almost a copy of the Commodus v Maximus denouement scene in the film "Gladiator"), then partake in the Final Battle where some die, some don't, and the reader is left with a quizzical eyebrow raise. Don't worry - these aren't spoilers.
The problems with this novel are legion:
Firstly, the treatment of women as sexual playthings bordering on misogyny. Best summaried in one awful single sentence mid-terrible "erotic" fantasy of a virgin giving herself up to Leocadius. I believe the actual sentence was: "a virgin who goes like a wild ass". A candidate for The Literary Review's annual Bad Sex Award.
Focusing on the opening thirty or so pages, historically, the novel suffers quite badly. In the opening pages we are told they are in the region of Valentia. This was formed in 369A.D. but our novel is set in 367A.D.. Other examples include the term "limitaneus" - not actually the singular nominative of limitanei - which been made up by the authors; "contubernia" in 3rd century A.D. were comprised of ten men, not eight as Google might have you believe; A "semisallis" was an Eastern Empire military command, not a Britannic one; "saddlehorns" are referred to in the same paragraph as `Roman horned saddles' - they are different types of saddle, the first didn't exist in the period of the novel; there is a lot of fantasy details about obscure tribes like the Vectriones. E.g. "They never washed and women ruled them". Really?
Aside from this it is the use of post-Roman idioms and phrases that stand out. We've got phrases such as: "rhyme or reason", "settle a score", "smoke and mirrors", "chip off the old block", "a bed of roses" , "all a-twitter", "a maul of shields", and my personal favourite - "bedroom hanky-panky". In its defence the last did make me laugh.
A lot of sentences start, criminally, with "And..."
Syntactically there are mistakes: "four hour's march", "Colisseum", "Saturmalia", "praeses". Twentieth century vernacular: "blokes", "riff-raff", "boss"; Medieval words: "peasants", "parley". There is the use of term "Duke" well ahead of its time. "Dux" is the correct appellation.
The narrative is confused at times. For example, the authors tell us the dead all had "their eyes, some closed, some wide open" yet later tell us "Justinus only knew Flavius Tarquinius by the name on his arm...his head was battered to a pulp." If his head was battered to a pulp then his eyes sure weren't open or closed. Another example: the characters arrive at the first massacre and tells us "no guards on the ramparts. No birds, either. No rooks. No ravens" yet at the end tell us "Only the ravens circled like tiny insects." There's too much inconsistency in the narrative.
To round it off there are strange tropes like: "He tossed his head towards the horsemen on the skyline", "The garden...smelled so aromatically of the afternoon's burning leaves.", "His head came up and he raked them with that fierce gaze of his", "in the spirit of democracy which the Republic had stolen from the Greeks".
All of the above in the opening thirty or so pages of the novel....the rest of it goes on in similar vein. So much so, this reviewer had to plow ahead ignoring the poor history, the poor narrative and focus on the action and events of the novel whilst understanding this was a fantasy action tale loosely based on actual historical events. So, was the novel gripping? In answer, from page 250 onwards the writing improves - suggestive perhaps of one author being more skilled than the other. But not massively. Yet scenes become set descriptively before narrative. The painting is better done, the images there. This occurs especially in Vitalis and Decius Critus' furtive midnight inductions in the Mithraeum; is nicely done in the scenes of where Longinus finds out Julia is pregnant.
In conclusion, the next effort needs to be much, much better. That novel needs to cut its "information" down, ensure what is stated is historically accurate, focus more on character understanding and subsequent actions by them, lose the schoolboy battle scene fantasies. Then...it will be worth a few hours read.
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on 23 February 2015
A wonderful read. I can't wait to start Part 2. It was easy to engage with all the main characters and even with the villains. The authors have made this period of history very interesting and exciting. Buy it and enjoy!
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on 15 April 2014
I received this book as a gift and I am so glad I did. It's not the usual thing I read but I absolutely devoured it; the story zips along at a cracking pace and you really care about all of the men of The Wall. I won't spoil it by giving any hints about what happens to them all, but the usual M J Trow mix of sadness and just a little wry humour is there in this collaboration. I gather from the title this is the first of a series and I can't wait for the next one. A great read.
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on 3 April 2016
Still reading this at the moment. I am enjoying it, it is a bit different from the usual Roman novels. I'm reading it on kindle (may be one at the back) a glossary at the front would have been good.
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on 20 August 2015
All about a time in Britain,I knew nothing about! It was well written, plenty of excitement, and at last the author didn't mind killing off people integral to he story! Well worth reading.
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on 5 February 2016
I enjoyed the The Wall part I, it was a good read and different story, towards the end of the Roman period in Britain. lots of characters throughout
the books with there own stories.
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on 18 May 2015
Clever use of what we do know about this period which is not an awful lot.
Perhaps characterisation a little weak but still a good read with good descriptions.
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