- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 1180 KB
- Print Length: 411 pages
- Publisher: www.gordondoherty.co.uk; 2 edition (14 Aug. 2012)
- Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
- Language: English
- ASIN: B008Y1L3LM
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Average Customer Review: 165 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #66,890 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Legionary: Viper of the North (Legionary 2) Kindle Edition
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"Legionary 2" is a superb book. The characters - Pavo, Gallus etc - all progress nicely and you can see the effect that events have on them as the story continues. Combine great characters with an excellent plot and you have a recipe for success. There are twists along the way - but they don't come completely out of left field. They are not twists for the sake of twists - they are necessary plot points that you can work out - the clues are there for you (nice and subtle though - you're not beaten about the head with them). "Legionary 2" is also a pretty perfect set up for book 3 (and honestly, you'll go back and read book 1 again just to make sure you haven't missed anything).
One of Gordon Doherty's many strengths is his description of battle scenes - they really do come to life behind your eyes. That's one of the joys of his books - his descriptions can create the scenes in your mind - not just the layout of the battlefield, but the sights, smells and experiences of the characters.
"Legionary 2" - like "Legionary" - is an absolute joy and delight to read. I'm currently reading this for the third time - and I will never tire of it.
This story essentially picks up where episode 1 (Legionary) left it, with the very much depleted border legion, and its officers in particular, straining to train a bunch of new recruits which are too few to make up for the heavy losses which they sustained in the previous instalment. I should perhaps have started with the book’s prologue, which takes place some twenty four years ago and where the Viper of the North, a mysterious, powerful and cruel Gothic warlord risks it all and loses his life by coming to Constantinople to free his ten year old son held hostage by the Romans. This scene although pure fiction was particularly good and rather plausible since the Romans did – and had for centuries - as part of their foreign policy takes the sons of barbarian kings, princes and leading nobles as hostages and would bring them up as privileged Romans. They did it with Goths, as with other Germanic tribes, and the future Alaric would himself be such a hostage brought up in Constantinople at the Imperial Court for a time.
One of the core pieces of the story is the crossing of the Danube by Fritigern and his followers, and the increasing problems that resulted from it as his people became more and more restless, hungry and faced abuse and exploitation by a remarkably arrogant, stupid and short-sighted Comes Lupicianus, a historical character which also features prominently in this volume. The way it happened is close to the narrative contained in the sources, even if the pieces involving the Viper of the North are fictitious. Given the abuses to which Fritigern’s Goths were subjected to, it is rather unsurprising that they ended in revolt and taking by force the food they needed to survive. There is no real need to have the Viper of the North and his accomplices stir things up, as they do in the book, although it does make for a good story.
The historical features and events do not quite seem to have played out as described in the book, with the author taking a number of liberties. For instance, the Goths never stormed Marcianoplis and the fate of Count Lupicianus, who was certainly an extremely arrogant and unpleasant character and the main person responsible for the situation spiralling out of all control, is unknown since he disappears from the records. Besides, and regardless of all of his other flaws there is nothing in the sources showing him to be a coward. He was certainly treacherous and high-handed. He did attempt to “solve the problem” by having the Gothic leaders assassinated although this did not happen as indicated in the book. Rather, he tried to have them murdered at the parley that he invited them to in Marcianopolis. Fritigern barely escaped with his life but at least another leader was killed. Needless to say, after such a botched attempt, there were no more talks. Moreover, the units of the Roman army of Thrace that had not left with the Emperor for the East were defeated, although they seem to have managed to retreat behind the city’s walls.
Both the portrait drawn by the author of Fritigern and his attitude are very plausible. He is in fact my favourite character in this book. Initially, he did absolutely not intend to revolt against Rome and plunder the Empire. He and his numerous followers were in fact seeking asylum and protection against the Huns and lands that they could cultivate in exchange for military service. This was something that Rome had already done a number of times in the past, for instance for the Sarmatians under both Constantine and his son Constantius, to name just two examples.
Somehow, things got out of control. Roman sources blame Count Lupicinus, who was, in reality, the commander of the Regional Thracian Army and not some jumped-up courtier who had obtained his position almost fraudulently. One can even wonder whether, and to what extent, Valens was aware of Lucipinus’ plans and whether the Count was just carrying out orders. Realistically, this is unlikely since Valens at the time when in Asia on the Persian front. However, had the assassination attempt been successful, the Emperor would very likely have approved this king of sharp but successful practice. The main source for these events claims quite in vivid terms that Lucipinus exploited the hungry Goths and sold them food for prohibitive prices, even enslaving their children when they could not pay. This may be true or may be part of the scapegoating to which failed generals and Emperors were subject to. There is also be another explanation, more simple explanation in that the crossing of Fritigern’s Goths and the need to feed them strained Roman food supplies, as is in fact shown in the book, and even if his followers may not have totalled a hundred thousand but only half that number and some ten thousand warriors.
Another “liberty” introduced by the author concerns the events surrounding the battle of Ad Salices, which was essentially a draw. Contrary to the book, the Western Roman forces under Count Richomerus fought the battle alongside the mixed troops of the Eastern Empire (border troops, what remained of the army of Thrace and some units brought back by Trajan from the Persian border. Richomeres did not arrive at the eleventh hour like the cavalry, and it is largely because he was on the battlefield alongside Trajan that the battle was fought. Although it was a costly draw with heavy losses on both sides, it did stop the Goths – or at least those with Fritigern, because by this point it seems that other bands had also managed to cross the Danube – from moving further south into Thrace. However, it also meant that the Moesian provinces were at least temporarily lost. Strategically, it also meant that the Goths were pinned down and vulnerable since Moesia had been ravaged and was unable to sustain them and they were also unable to take the cities where the grain and food was stored and protected.
In practice, and although the historical context largely follows the sources, there are again a few cases where the author tends to exaggerate at the risk of making his story less plausible. The battles are one example of this where the romans and XI Claudia in particular, are twice almost exterminated and reduced to a mere handful (almost literally). A related feature is the author’s tendency to exaggerate and to become rather graphic when describing all his battles in over-gory terms, with heads and limbs flying left, right and centre, and guts spilling all over the place.
Other features also carried over from the previous volume are the rather implausible and tedious cessions of self-pity that Pavo, our main hero, and Gallus, the supposedly tough Tribune and commanding officer of the XI Claudia, seem to endemically indulge in.
All in all, however, I appreciated this tile more than the previous one and will therefore rate it four stars.
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