Learn more Shop now Learn more Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Learn more Click Here Shop Kindle Learn More Shop now Shop Women's Shop Men's

TOP 100 REVIEWERon 26 October 2012
This is the third volume of "Ballista", or Dernhelm, the Romanized general and son of a warlord of the Angles. The action takes place during the "Third Century Crisis" and, in this tome specifically, between Spring 260 and the defeat and capture of Emperor Valens, one of the greatest Roman military disasters during the Empire, and Autumn 261 when the Sassanid invaders had finally been repealed and the rebellion of the usurpers Macrinus and his two sons had been crushed.

The author definitely knows his subject and displays his erudition, as usual, at the risk of annoying some of his readers who might feel lectured, although others seem to enjoy it, at least if some reviews are to be believed. Once again, the originality of the period and hero distinguishes this series from the numerous others that take place during the Roman Empire. Once again, the book is a mix of politico-military intrigues and battles, as Ballista, prisoner of the Sassanids, if freed by them so that he can move on to other things and accomplish what he is historically known for: defeating the Sassanids three times in battle.

While still good, I found this volume not quite as good as the previous one, and even less than "Fire in the East", the first one which, in my view, was the very best. For a long time, I was quite incapable of explaining why I came to such a conclusion, especially since all of the ingredients that make me enjoy the two previous volumes so much still seemed to be on display in this third episode. It is this very word - episode - that made me realize what the main problem was: I was not engaged as much as I had been before. Ballista in particular, and some of the other characters to a lesser extent no longer "felt and sounded" real and I had the (very subjective) impression that they were sometimes bordering stereotypes, with actions and behaviours which did not appear to be realistic.

The first component of this lack of realism was related to Ballista being sent around by the Macrinii as the number one "problem solver", despite the fact that there no love lost between them. You would think that the usurping Macrinii might select some other officer whose loyalty they could take for granted, although taking loyalty for granted was probably not a the best way to reach old age for Emperors, especially at the time. But no, you get the impression that Ballista is the only name that comes to their mind and that they really believed that holding his family hostage would guarantee his good behaviour and help to motivate them.

Then there is Ballista's reaction when he learns that his family has died. Huge grief is to be expected, together with a craving for vengeance, but moving against the Sassanids in Cilicia when his family had died in Antioch because of the Macrinii may not have been the most obvious reaction. What makes this even worse is the picture of Ballista - the tall blond Germanic warrior - going berserk in the middle of the battle (quite possible), cutting down all of his opponents and appearing unstoppable (just about plausible) and yelling in...Persian that he is some God of Death. This felt like a cheap and very implausible piece of melodrama, and it grated. There are a few other episodes which felt just as implausible, such as the expedition to Judea, among others.

We then have the final scenes when the last of the Macrinii sons and his ally are disposed of and Ballista, who has been acclaimed Emperor by the handful of Roman troops that are left, relinquishes the purple and walks away with his life. This is possibly the most implausible piece of all, as Odenathus lets him get away with it at a time when any claimant to the throne, and there were many, was put to death as a matter of course and as an elementary precaution, regardless of whether he had been willing to usurp the purple of simply forced into it. This unrealistic ploy and twist is, of course, the author changing his mind (the series was, it seems, originally conceived as a trilogy) and deciding to keep his hero alive for further adventures. The very last scene, with Zenobia meaningful looks and whispers, is supposed to let us know that more is to come, sometime in the future since we know that Zenobia finally revolted against Rome. Even this felt a bit artificial.

So my main impression after having read, and now re-read this book for the second time was that Harry Sidebottom may have become a bit complacent in this volume. His characters and their actions appear less well cast, as if he had become a bit careless after the huge success of his two previous volumes. This does not mean that volume III is not good. Although I was a bit sdisappointed, it is still above average and a great read, but it is not as good as the previous ones and the series seemed, to me, to be going downhill in slow motion. Three stars and a half (converted to four, since the rating system does not allow for half stars).
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 3 August 2017
Cracking read.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 27 December 2012
The book came on time and was well wrapped up. It was the hardback edition. Seems good value for the money.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 13 May 2017
Arrived safely
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 June 2011
I was interested to see where Harry was going to take the next book in this series, unlike some of the Roman series out there at the moment I feel that this one has more of a shelf life with Ballista, but between now and the end I really want to see how well Harry writes the character, his friends and all of their lives.

Lion of the Sun lived up to its predecessors and delivered with plenty of punch, there is action aplenty and the characters as usual leap off the page. For me an example of a good book is how quickly it ends, ie how soon I get to the end. I tend to find reasons to delay bad books and find other things to do, and awful books I never ever finish. This took me 2 days cover to cover which for its size is a good sign.

Without giving any plot away I feel we learn a lot more about the Sassanid empire and Shapur in this book, but by the end of the book you can see the end of the series even more so than before...which is fine because I would ask Harry...what's next...all authors have another series just over the horizon. (do you??)

A solid 4 out of 5 from me.
0Comment| 5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
VINE VOICEon 19 July 2010
Having read a number of Harry's books (well the previous two in this series) before I pretty much knew what to expect. You gat an almost classical education as you read through his work, backed up with charactes that leap from the pages of history to defy the rules and history makers of the day.

Its reasonably paced, the descriptiveness descent and bound together with an outline that does what it says on the tin./ Whilst perhaps not as imaginable as Cornwell or combat based as either Scarrow or Cameron, this author does bring a book to the table that many a reader will enjoy.

Definitely a title to take your time with in order to fully digest what's happening within. Good fun, solid back up and perhaps most importantly a sustainable quality for all of his writing. Whilst you can read this without having read any others in the series I would really recommend against that course of action and suggest that you start at the beginning in order to get the most out of this title.
55 Comments| 27 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 27 December 2012
I realize that there are two Ballista instalments after this one but Lion of the Sun concludes the story-arch beginning with Fire in the East. It is an excellent conclusion albeit very different in style from the first two books.

To begin with matters are a lot more complicated with many characters claiming the title 'emperor' and many more plot elements outside the struggle against the Sassanids (Persians). In addition, the narration takes the view of many more characters other than Ballista, including Maximus, Gallienus (Valerian's son and rightful heir to the throne), Demetrius etc. Characters long absent since Fire in the East and the beginning of King of Kings make an interesting return.

The final few pages did surprise me a great deal and for the first time Sidebottom offered a twist I was far from expecting.

I knock one star off as the story is rather rushed, with a slow beginning and then gradually gaining momentum but then feeling a little rushed towards the end. To be fair I read it very fast so I might have missed a few details such as what happens to Calcagus, Ballista's servant and Demetrius is unaccounted for in the end - perhaps plot points that are covered in The Caspian Gates.

Four stars for this volume then as it is darker, more epic and tragic than the first two instalments and is on the whole a very pleasing conclusion to the story-arch that began with Fire in the East.
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 22 July 2010
Well professor Sidebottem continues to endeavor to improve my mind despite my begging him not to! As well as the usual latin lessons this time there is extensive passages from Homer and and Euripides courtesy of our poetry loving Barbarian hero!
However interspersed with these cultural offerings is a cracking action packed story full of Roman treachery, full pitched battles, alleyway skirmishes and enough people declaring themselves Emperor to fill a bus.

What most impresses me about Sidebottem's writing however is his excellent character portrayals and deft touch with violence. The cast list is 3D and believable, the dialogue realistic and witty and the violence is descriptive, graphic but not over the top. What this means is we have a set of people we really care about up to their necks in adventure and danger! Just what I want from my historical fiction.

The story picks up from volume 2 with Ballista still a captive of the Sassanids and his recently freed slaves on the run from them.
The loathsome Macrianus and his even more loathsome sons are still in the ascendency but with world history coming to the boil nicely, how long will they remain so? The Sassanids are still on the warpath, the Palmyran ruler (the Lion of the Sun from the books title) could hold the balance of power in the east, and Gallienus (the real Emperor) is out for revenge! Ballista and his household are caught in the middle of all this and Ballista must walk a fine line to protect those he loves and yet exact his own sworn revenge. I would strongly advise anyone about to sample this authors work to read them in order, as unlike some of Cornwell's historical saga's it does matter here.

This book seems to conclude the story in the East, at least for now. There is no 'first chapter' from the next book tagged on at the end this time. But interestly I lost count of how many times the author reinforced how young Ballista is, so expect a few more adventures yet. This is a series not a trilogy.

In summary a great book. A fast moving and exciting story. Detailed charactors with some genuinely moving scenes, particularly when illustrating the friendship and comradeship between Ballista and his two Celtic servants. This is a story that will please the more shallow minded like myself who just want an adventure, but also give the more cultured something to savour too.
0Comment| 24 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 26 July 2010
I very much enjoy reading books set in classical times and I have read some cracking ones (Conn Iggulden's Emperor series for instance) and some very forgettable ones (sorry, I have forgotten the titles of those!)

This series is very much in the excellent category. The story is compelling, and I put off various things I was supposed to be doing until I finished it. The action is well written, and the characterisations are excellent. This is one of those books that sucks you in and makes you really feel you know these characters. You love, hate and get angry with these people.

In terms of pacing, the only thing that interrupts the flow of the story a little is all the Latin asides, or quotations from classical works. On the plus side, you come away from this book feeling educated! (Well maybe that is not a good thing, depending on your views on education). None of this feels pretentious though - it is more that the author clearly has expertise in these fields and writes as he wants his story written.

But that won't spoil the story. Thoroughly recommended to anyone who likes classical or historical fiction.
0Comment| 21 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 7 November 2011
Why is the cover illustration clearly a negative image?
Anybody who knows anything about the Roman cavalry knows
that they were trained to be *right* handed (even if they
were naturally left-handed). The cavalryman's shield should
*always* be shown in his left hand and his primary weapon -
his lance/spear - in his right hand. His sword (in this
particaulr historical period, at least) should also be slung
from his right side, not his left. I'm afraid I cannot take
any book seriously when the cover-art is so depressingly
unhistorical; it's like reading someone's CV for a job
application only to find that they have a glaring typo or
spelling mistake in the first line, so they go straight into
the 'rejected' pile. I hope this picture was not the choice
of the writer, and only that of the editor (who should also
know better). It may 'look' better to have the cavalryman
left-handed, but I'm afraid it's just plain wrong.

Mike Weatherley
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse