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The Gladiator (Eagles of the Empire 9) (Roman Legion 9) Paperback – 4 Feb 2010
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Praise for Simon Scarrow: 'I really don't need this kind of competition... It's a great read' (Bernard Cornwell)
A new book in Simon Scarrow's series about the Roman army is always a joy (The Times)
Gripping... ferocious and compelling, it is a story of blood, romance and sacrifice (Daily Express)
Rollicking good fun (Mail on Sunday)
A satisfyingly bloodthirsty, bawdy romp...perfect for Bernard Cornwell addicts who will relish its historical detail and fast-paced action. Storming stuff (Good Book Guide)
Gripping (Sunday Times)
Scarrow's [novels] rank with the best (Independent)
About the Author
Simon Scarrow is a Sunday Times No. 1 bestselling author. His many successful books include his Eagles of the Empire novels featuring Roman soldiers Macro and Cato, most recently INVICTUS, BRITANNIA, BROTHERS IN BLOOD and THE BLOOD CROWS, as well as HEARTS OF STONE, set in Greece during the Second World War, SWORD AND SCIMITAR, about the 1565 Siege of Malta, and a quartet about Wellington and Napoleon including the No. 1 Sunday Times bestseller THE FIELDS OF DEATH. He is the author with T. J. Andrews of the gladiator novels ARENA and INVADER.
Find out more at www.simonscarrow.co.uk and on Facebook /officialsimonscarrow and Twitter @SimonScarrow
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In my view this is by far the strongest of the series so far, the character of Ajax is well rounded, the evocation of a province in chaos after a natural disaster and slave revolt is superb and I'm hoping the character of Catos prospective father in law Senator Sempronius continues to feature, finally a senior official not sneering or on the make (apart from Vespasian who is probably overdue a reappearance).
Overall a definite return to form and I've already started on the next one.
They were what got me into the Roman period for historical fiction, but, for me, have not moved forward. Each one is basically the same story in a different setting. The main characters still have the same annoying weaknesses they had in the first book, having not, apparently, learnt anything along the way. The other characters come and go, but don't seem to develop.
For me, there are other 'Roman' novels and series which now hold more appeal.
This series of books is based around the adventures of two men - Macro and Cato. Macro is a soldier through and through; he has spent his life in the army and is a centurion when we first meet him in the first book. In that book we also meet Cato who joins the legion as a new recruit, although he seems an unlikely candidate for a soldier. The series goes on to relate their many adventures and the relationship between them. Most of the stories are based - sometimes loosely - on real events and people, with a healthy dose of artistic license.
As far as I can tell the historical detail and facts are accurate, and the writing is generally engaging. There are criticisms in other reviews about the authors use of 'modern' slang; I know what they mean, but would we identify with 'roman' slang? For me, it is not a problem, I am not a fan of trying to invent historical language, it is too easy to fall into the 'ye olde shoppe' trap!
Overall, the series is very readable, and rolls along at a good pace. Like some other historical series, it doesn't do to try and fit the events into a timeline, as it soon becomes clear that the two men could not have done everything they do in one lifetime, but that doesn't detract from a fun series. Two niggles:the formatting annoys me in that the gaps between paragraphs are too long, particularly where there are long conversations, and they are a little over-priced.
Review of this book:
Macro and Cato find themselves on Crete after a huge earthquake and tidal wave. Law and order on the island have fallen apart, and they find themselves having to help re-establish order, and deal with a slave rebellion led by someone who they have encountered before. All in all, another good read; the story moves along well, and keeps you entertained. The romance which started in the last book continues here, but in a rather half-hearted way. I have a suspicion that this thread may have been suggested to the author rather then being his own invention. We shall see if it continues into future books.
Its not that there's anything wrong with The Legion per se. After ten Eagle novels, his 'Revolution' series and his tween Gladiator novels Scarrow is too experienced a writer to produce a totally duff book. The prose is solid, the plotting logical, the historical details sound and the action when it comes coherent and reasonably exciting.
The problem I had with The Legion, and also to an extent with the ninth Eagle novel, The Gladiator (Roman Legion 9), is that it doesn't really offer anything new. Macro and Cato are confronted by a series of challenges as always, some large and some small, and they find a way to overcome each one. Its reassuringly familiar but at the same time very predictable. Scarrow does try and inject some fresh elements into the story. Ajax the rebellious former Gladiator reappears, providing an alternative point-of-view to Macro and Cato's. There's the change of location, with Egypt replacing the previous novel's Crete. In addition to Ajax the Romans are also facing a new enemy in the form of the massed ranks of the Nubians. Plus there's a spy within the Roman ranks working against them.
Despite all these seemingly new plot devices however, I just couldn't help but feel that I'd read The Legion before. Nothing in the book surprised me. At no point did I really feel Macro or Cato were in genuine jeopardy or would fail to triumph in the end. Neither of the lead characters behaved in anything other than the expected manner. It was as if Scarrow was working to well worn formula, which I guess to an extent he is.
The result is an unchallenging read. Perfect if you want comfortable familiarity but hardly a book to set your pulse racing or make you gasp with surprise. Even the mystery of the spy in the Roman ranks was utterly predictable despite some heavy handed attempts at misdirection.
At some point I will probably pick up the next book in the series Praetorian (Roman Legion II), but only when I want something I can dip in and out of and doesn't demand my full attention, but I can't say how much longer my loyalty to this series, which I have stuck with since Under the Eagle was first published in 2000, will last. Scarrow needs to do something radical to re-energise the series. Maybe, dare I say it, he needs to consider 'retiring' Macro or doing something equally extreme. If he doesn't, on the evidence of the last couple of entries, the 'Eagle' series is in danger of becoming safe, familiar and reassuring but ultimately rather dull.