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Nemesis (Brennus ~ Conqueror of Rome Book 2) Kindle Edition
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The first piece of interest is the originality of the topic. Rome’s defeat and the sack of the city by the Gallic tribe of the Senons is a rather original topic to pick. This is the first time I have read a historical novel on it. It is also a nice contrast from the vast majority of more “usual” (but nevertheless exciting) stories on Roman triumphs, although they have been a number of exceptions here with novels dealing with Roman military disasters inflicted by Hannibal, the Parthians or the Germans (Teutoburg and Adrianople). This book, however, is about the very first Roman disaster and the sack of Rome that followed. The choc this created and the recovery that the Romans were able to stage were allegedly such that it set them firmly on the road to conquering their Empire.
One of the problems here is that we know little about what really happened, and only have the Roman (or pro-Roman) versions of the events. The author has obviously well-researched his subject, even if one may wonder whether some of the semi-legendary events that tend to paint the Romans in ways they would have liked to remember really happened. This is for instance the case of the old “paterfamilias” of the patrician clans who refused to leave their homes and flee before the invaders. One may also wonder whether the scene where Brennus heaps humiliations onto the defeated Romans when extorting tribute from them really happened as the Romans chose to recall it in writing. Whether it did or not does not really matter. What does matter is that this is how the Romans chose to recall this disaster and the subtext underpinning this presentation reads like “never again” or words to that effect.
The author’s interpretation explaining the disastrous defeat at the Allia is also particularly interesting. There does not seem to be anything in the “historical” sources confirming the Gallic tricks and stratagems used in the book, but these would go a long way towards explaining why the Romans are presented as being heavily outnumbered. Alternatively, they may have been outnumbered because the Senons invaded before Rome’s allies had time to muster and come to its help. I will not discuss the battle itself, if only to avoid spoilers. Suffice is to mention that the Roman army was badly defeated and fled but it was not utterly destroyed, and a number of troops did manage take refuge in the ruins of the recently destroyed Etruscan city of Veii, as shown in the book.
The plot is exciting and the story fast-paced. The main characters are essentially the same as in the first book and the mystic, religious and supernatural dimensions are still there, particularly with regards to the druidess Catumanda. Also included are the various types of (human) sacrifices that the Celts practised at the time
I did however have two sets of problems. One, the least important, is that there a number of little glitches throughout the book. These seem to result from the paucity of the sources, and the fact that they are one-sided. Rome, for instance, probably did not have “insulae” during the fourth century BC and these may have only appeared more than a century later as the city became a magnet attracting population from all over Italy. Other glitches reflect uncertainties and issues with the sources. For instance, there seems to have been military tribunes at the time, but there were no cohorts and it is unclear as to what the role of these tribunes was and what their command encompassed exactly. The consequence is to have the three military tribunes of the Fabii each commanding a mere century alongside a centurion at the battle of the Allia. Another type of glitch is that the author at times uses Latin terms (such as oppidum) or derived from Latin (such as “castro”) when describing Celtic fortresses, and particularly that of Numantia in Spain.
The second problem, perhaps more important, relates to the plot and the book’s size, which is perhaps a hundred pages or so shorter than it could have been. I really had the impression that the end of the story was somewhat rushed with a number of crucial events which could have deserved to be treated in much more detail crammed into the last thirty pages or so. I was also a bit surprised that Brennus, the war leader of the Senons, plays a relatively small role in this book and drops out for mysterious reasons – things to do in the place he originally came from, apparently. A related issue is that while the military disaster and the sack of Rome are well shown, there is very little on the recovery and how this was achieved. However, the book’s last scene is quite superb and explains in itself the book’s title.
Put differently, and to conclude this review, I am somewhat “complaining” because I wanted “more of it”. I can only hope that the author will come up with a third book precisely on the period of twenty years or so that followed the disaster of the Allia and during which Camillus (a historical character) and his rivals of the Fabii (also historical) managed to put aside their antagonism and do seem to have reformed the Roman army and may have introduced the manipular system.
Four strong stars.
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