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The Eagle has conquered me!,
This review is from: The Eagle's Conquest (Paperback)
The Eagle's Conquest has proved that Simon is definitely no flash in the pan, in fact he is the chief protagonist of this genre of writers. With not so many writers of this genre around at the time (2001, when this novel was written), to inspire him to write such excellent works as The Eagle's Conquest, Simon really stood out alone, as if to say "There's more to a living history novel than you think". I'm glad to say lots of readers have responded to that in the most positive way - me included.
Simon's background as a lecturer in history has obviously propelled him to act on putting to an end the pretentious, over-romanticised, 2D story which is classed as an adult novel, but is just as fit to read to a 5-year-old. He has replaced all that with real-life, 3D effects which the reader cannot help but visualise. Even swearing, violence and promiscuity in the extreme is there (love it or hate it). The Eagle's Conquest endorsed that, thus inspiring a new genre of writers, and beginning the last chapter in the development of the living history novel. This is bearing in mind that this being only Simon's second book, was written at the time of when Ben Kane was still a vet working in the North-East during the foot-and-mouth outbreak, and Tony Riches still had 8 years to go before he released Wounds of Honour, and several other authors of this genre were only "thinking about it".
Simon's objective was to point out that war is something that no-one can romanticise over. Like most authors of this genre, Simon has been unfairly criticised for the use of swearing and other forms of crudeness, but that's what it's really like on the battlefront. People resort to extreme behaviour when they are attacked or even threatened, this case being the fear of being killed or maimed, and in reaction to that, they swear, simple as! It's not Times Square on New Years' Eve! Remember, it takes all sorts to make a world! Get over it!
What I liked best about The Eagle's Conquest is a social one which may even cause controversy, but is true to the point. It focusses on whether the emperor himself should lead the battle against Caratacus, as opposed to relying on the experience of the general Plautius. It goes to emphasise the arrogance of a corrupt authoritarian who refuses to listen to reason and leave it to the experts, and is only interested in the self-centred glory and flaunting of his own power. Of course he takes all the credit, as opposed to the soldiers who really did all the work, and were nothing more than soon-to-be-forgotten tools no matter whether they lived or died afterwards.
Claudius himself never followed a soldiers code, in fact his stammering alone proved he was too medically unfit to lead such a campaign, and he wasn't a well person at the best of times. Simon also bore emphasis on Vespasian's frustration at not being able to use his own experience in that field, to direct the battle without such interference from the powers-that-be. And how Vespasian had to bite his tongue as well, for fear of even the most extreme reprisals from above.
On a more recent issue, Saddam Hussein never followed a soldier's code. Written in 2001 and before 9/11 which didn't come till later that year, The Eagle's Conquest, albeit indirectly, anticipated the shape of things to come in the 21st-Century. Shortly after 9/11, war was declared on Saddam Hussein!
Back to Roman times, however, The Eagle's Conquest is an excellent, clear picture of what actually happened during the Claudian invasion of Britain, just what our vision of such a historic event really needed. Such a novel cannot manifest itself without extremely careful research, and every page you read in this novel reminds you of that. Now you see why "The Eagle" has conquered me! Well done Simon.