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4.6 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 April 2012
Set in the late 2nd century AD, three Empire novels have followed the dangerous and thrilling path of Marcus Valerius Aquila, a man on the run, as he fought for victory by Hadrian's Wall against the northern tribes and manoeuvred himself into the loyalties and affections of his fellow centurions and soldiers. We have met infantrymen, cavalry and bowmen, a succession of different forces from across the empire, all gathered to keep the northernmost tip of the empire secure while, as the emperor Commodus' corruption becomes ever more apparent, gaining another more secret mission of keeping Marcus safe from the tyranny that has wiped out his entire family and, since then, good friends.

But Roman Britain is no longer safe for Marcus. The deadly reach of Commodus now stretches even to this remote border of the empire. Marcus is in disguise as centurion Marcus Tribulus Corvus of the second Tungrian auxiliary cohort but his success in that role (winning him the name of Two Knives) has left a blazing trail for Commodus' spies to trace. Marcus and his love Felicia, the army's doctor, may have survived the latest attack on them at Hadrian's Wall but the time has come for Marcus to move on. However, because this is Marcus we're talking about, a centurion beloved of his men and fellow officers, he's not on his own. As The Leopard Sword begins, Marcus leads his auxiliaries back home, to the city of Tungrorum in Germania Inferior, a city depleted by plague and now threatened by a forest of bandits, led by Obduro, a man hidden behind a Roman cavalry mask and armed with a sword that can cut iron blades in two, the Leopard Sword.

The Leopard Sword is different from its predecessors, effectively marking the end of a trilogy and beginning a new phase in Marcus' career and in the story. Leaving Hadrian's Wall behind, Marcus, Felicia, Dubnus, Julius, Arminius, Martos, Scaurus, Qadir and many more figures who will be so familiar to anyone who has enjoyed the previous Empire novels, now find themselves unwelcome in Tungrorum, a city with little morale, an impoverished population and lousy leadership. Matters not helped by the thugs in the woods who steal the city's grain and separate men from their heads.

Aside from the change in location, The Leopard Sword also brings other characters more to the fore, such as the big Tungrian Julius, pushing Marcus a little into the background, as if reflecting the entire cohort's aim of giving Marcus an anonymous security. The emphasis, then, is on the change of scene for our familiar bunch and on its resolution to rid the town of its menace. As evidence of a personal vendetta becomes apparent between Obduro and someone in the Roman camp, an intriguing mystery develops - just who is the man behind the cavalry mask? As in the previous novels, Marcus and the other men all risk their lives repeatedly as matters heat up, the pages race by and the mysteries deepen.

Anthony Riches manages like few others to bring the world of the Roman soldier to life before your eyes. It's not just because of the many small daily details of this hard existence that the books are filled with, it's also because of all the other less tangible aspects of this past time and way of life that are mixed in - the banter, the religious beliefs, the loyalties, the fights, the gambling, the play, the punishments and the betrayals. All of these are here with all their rough edges and their appeal intensified because the men here are drawn from across the known world. We have Romans, Tungrians, Britons, Germans, Hamatians - some in Roman uniform and some in furs. All battle-scarred and here tied together by their loyalty to their cohort, their prefect, their first spear and to Marcus, one of my favourite characters in Roman historical fiction.

The Leopard Sword is a confident, assured novel that takes its time. It allows the new and old characters space to sum one another up while we get used to the streets of Tungrorum. When the time comes and we enter the terrifying woods of Tungria and cross its black rivers, you might want to hold on. This book could not be prised from my hands as events unfolded.

You could read The Leopard Sword without having read the three preceding Empire novels but I would most definitely recommend that, if you don't read them before, you must certainly read them straight afterwards. This review is from a review copy for which I'm grateful!
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The Leopard Sword is the fourth in the Empire series. The first three were set on Hadrian's Wall with young Centurion Marcus Tribulus Corvus hiding under an assumed name, escaping the politics of Rome. The books centred on his adventures on the Wall and the barbarians beyond, while finding his home in the camaraderie of his Legion colleagues. Very entertaining they were too, but Anthony Riches was wise enough to realise he needed to throw something fresh into the series, and indeed he has.

The Leopard Sword sees Marcus and his colleagues being sent to their original home, Tungrorum in Germania. Their role is to protect the town from bandits and ensure the supply routes for grain are kept open. On arrival they find the bandits have been united by a mysterious masked leader, and nothing is what it seems at first sight.

Of course it roars along at a great pace and sucks you in straight away, the signs of a great story-teller and with a great cast of characters. The author is clever enough to spread the story a bit and it works really well, Marcus is in there but he is not the main focus. I have to say my favourite character is probably the Tribune, Scaurus. A clever and multi-layered character, but that is true of many of the individuals in here, and the author finely balances the story around them.

So, much to enjoy here and a welcome addition to a series that dares to grow and challenge the reader.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 May 2012
If you are looking for a piece of historical fiction that is also part thriller and part adventure story, then look no further: Anthony Riches has done it again in this fourth installment of his "Empire" series. Since he mentions his intention to write on through top the end of the regin of Septimius Severus (in AD 211) and the book takes place in AD 182, readers can probably expect another dozen book over the next few years. The book is a superb read, one of those that readers would be adviased to start on a Friday evening only, or, even better, on a Saturday or Sunday morning with nothing else planned for the rest of the day. Otherwise, you'll finish it around 2 or 3 am while having to go to work the next day.

Having said that, the book is not quite perfect (although you could just as well argue that no book ever is!). I, possibly like a few other reviewers, hesitated between four and five stars. I went for the latter for a number of reasons.
- However much I might quibble about the story - I found out rather early on who the "nasty" was - it is well written, with something happening every 20-30 pages or so and it also includes a few "hed herrings". There is simply no way a reader will be bored here
- It is also very well researched, with an interesting emphasis on the plague (or rather the series of plagues) that hit the Roman Empire during Marcus Aurelius' reign and under Comodus and its dire consequences in terms of population and financial and economival resources. Another very interesting point is that it also lead to wide-scale banditry within the empire. This could disrupt the army's provisioning and create major issues especially since the legions and cohorts wedre still mostly stationed along the borders.
- A related point is Anthony's historical notes: accurate and to the point, neither too much, nor too little. This is particularly true when presenting the Roman army of the second half of the second century. For instance, the size for the whole Roman army that he comes up with has been subject to controversies among historians for at least 50 years or so. However, the estimates that he has chosen happen to be the most widely accepted ones and the same goes, more or less, for the size and organization of the imperial legions and auxiliary cohorts
- At times, you still get the impression that Marcus Aquila - our blue-eyed boy hero - is a bit of a "superman", but less than in the previous volume. For instance, Marcus is not entirely sympathetic - he has a bit of a killer instinct in him and seems to enjoy it at times. He is also rash enough to get himself into serious trouble, and the fact that he manages to get out of it might feel a bit implausible to some.
- Another huge quality of this book, in my view, is that you can read it without having already gone through the previous episodes, which is not so frequent in series. Note however that if you do this, I have little doubt that you will want to pounce on the three previous volumes as well.

So, not a perfect book - assuming there is such a thing - but I enjloyed it so much that whatever little quibbles I can think of sound rather petty. Note that even the editing is much better than what you find in most other comparable novels. A Gem...
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on 18 August 2012
I bought this after enjoying the three previous books in the series. The plot on this one was nowhere near as good, infact it seems quite improbable, although the writer appears to know his Roman history. The thing that spoiled it most of all was what had been a minor irritation in the previous books, the amount of time the characters used their eye brows to express every emotion and feeling rose to a crescendo in this fourth story. So much so that the characters seem to be using semaphore to communicate so didn't need to use words(which at times made me feel like screaming aloud). He has proved he can write a good story but sadly he let standards slip with this one.
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I've enjoyed Anthony's books since he burst onto the seen a few years ago, they had a great combination of action, a familiar setting for me and added a cracking lead character who demonstrated both tenderness, naivety and the ability to fight when it came to it.

Add to this sharp prose, a great sense of pace which when backed with a writing style that's very easy to get into, you can't help but sit back and enjoy the adventure.

Here in the latest title there's more of the same with a villain that's the same level as Corvus, has a solid combat style which when accompanied with an almost mythical blade makes for a real challenge for our Centurion hero, almost as if he were a flip side of the same coin. Add to this the Tungarians' marching back to their homelands to help take some of the heat from our hero with a graphic change of scenery and fighting style and all in this book was a pure joy from start to finish. I really can't wait to see what Anthony comes up with next.
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on 30 September 2012
Where do I start with The Leopard Sword? Strangely, with a comparison.

You see, I've been a fan of Tony's books since the first Empire novel, but to me there is a definitely change between the first three books and this fourth one that makes a comparison viable. I have recommended the first three novels to numerous people since I started them (and bought copies as presents for some) but the target audience for that recommendation was fairly specific. The Empire books have been distinctly miltary in nature, bloodthirsty (aka not for the faint-hearted), rude (in an entirely appropriate way - The Romans has a fairly crude sense of humour and let's face it, the military is pretty similar throughout history.) So I've aimed my recommendations at people with an interest in that area and who I know will appreciate the style.

The Leopard sword has lost none of these things. Everything that a fan of the first three books enjoyed is here. You will enjoy it. Believe me.

But more than that, Empire IV has taken Tony's writing (and most particularly, I think, his planning of novels) to a whole new level. I will recommend TLS to people who I would baulk at the thought of reading the first three. It shows not only a natural progression from the first three but also a maturity in style that I adored.

Moving from a 90% military plotline to a new and exciting mix of military, whodunnit and thriller, TLS had me guessing almost to the end, with its constant twists and surprises. Every time I thought I'd nailed part of the plot it evaporated like smoke. I could enthuse about this at length and give some fantastic detail, but I will NOT risk spoilers, so enjoy that aspect and be glad I didn't ruin it for you.

The first three books, for me, were very much a trilogy, and I worried, after the fairly definitive and enormous end of the third, whether Tony could really pull a fourth out of his hat. He's done that, and made me wish I'd given his earlier books a lower rating so that I could adequately express my high estimation of this one.

As well as the continued 'real' feel of the military seen in his earlier books, there is also a much more personal element to TLS for several characters. There are some new and impressive folk to meet, and the bad guy in TLS will rank among my top historical villains. From his very introduction, he exudes style and mystery. Oh, and one of the previously more 'supporting' characters has really come into his own in this book and taken a limelight role - not before time.

This book also has a far more complex and intricate plot that its predecessors, and a real feel for the time and the local environment, which play a very important role in the plot itself. The interwoven threads are so neatly tied, it pleased me immensely to see not a hint of a loose end.

Moreover, I feel that Tony may have shifted a tiny amount of his focus so that there is less concentration on the battle and viscera (though don't panic as there's still plenty of ICK!) and more on subtle plot twists and character growth. All in all, it's a subtle move in style, I think, but a welcome and mature one which loses nothing, yet gains everything.

Simply: I love it. Buy it. And - and I rarely will say this - even if you've not read the first three or don't fancy them, buy this anyway. You'll love it too.

Roll on The Wolf's Gold (now out in less than a month!)
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on 10 June 2012
I have read all of Anthony Riches' books, but for me, this has been his best, in what has so far been a solid series.

The story was reasonably complex and had enough twists and turns to keep me entertained until the very last few pages without going over the top.(thus inducing that 'WTF?' moment that you get with some other books.)

The characters were three-dimensional and in my opinion, the strongest part of the book. We have a fantastic leading man, but his mates aren't that bad either. Add into the mix some thoroughly detestable rogues, a tart with a heart, and a truly evil villain, and you have a nicely rounded cast of characters.

With believable dialogue, a solid knowledge of the history of the time, and some pretty impressive and eloquent writing, 'The Leopard Sword' is a book that in my opinion equals anything that has been written by Messrs Scarrow and Iggulden.

In short Anthony Riches is fast becoming one of my favourite authors of the genre. I very much look forward to his next instalment
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on 1 June 2012
I have read the previous instalments of Marcus Valerius Aquila story and I have found them to be solid contributions to the sword and sandal genre. However, I have never completely managed to fully buy into the lead character in the series. Its just that he is bit too 'unbelievable' for what I know and understand about the Roman military. A double sword wielding centurion fugitive from Imperial justice carving his way across the Roman Empire. A kind of super-centurion minus the bright red underwear. The battle sequences in the first books of the series where the key strength of the early books, and that takes more of a back seat in the Leopard Sword and other characters are given more chance to come through. Without the meaty battle sequences that helped drive the narrative and plot of the early books this one meanders to a damp squib of a middle and an end, although there are some twist-and-turns along the way. Its still worth a read, as are Anthony's earlier books, its just that I read a lot of this sort of stuff and he just hasn't quite hit the spot for me yet that are reserved for Scarrow and Sidebottom at the moment. it's more of a sturdy and reliable second rank legionnaire than an elite first rower.
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on 2 June 2013
Very readable and enjoyable for 80% of the book... however it fell away towards the end and I felt cheated at the finish...Up to this the book and the preceding ones..were up the standard of Simon Scarrow however, Scarrow always leaves you wanting more...Maybe with future books Anthony will achieve the same result.????
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on 20 December 2014
have read this book twice now and am having it on "kindle". My only criticism is could we have the map lay outs through out the book please as when the action begins it would help to make the story line even better. Finally I realise the locations are based on the past but it would be nice to relate to modern Europe as well. But it is a great story well done.
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