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Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

on 21 March 2015
This is a very good book. I love the way the author combines the fantasy world with the romans. It has great characters, plot and was extremely enjoyable to read.
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on 4 June 2017
A tale worth reading
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 22 August 2007
Imagine a roman legion from Ceasar Army which disappears and is transported to an alternate world, which looks mostly as the Mediterranean world around 600 AD. In this world the strongest and richest (although not exactly dominant) power is Empire of Videssos, which is actually a mirror image of Byzantin Empire in VII century AD (with some minor anachronisms), except that the magic in this world is real.

The misplaced legion becomes a precious mercenary force in service of Videssos and is soon put to the test of many wars waged by the powerful but vulnerable empire. The leader of the legion, Marcus Scaurus, attracts also the personal hostility of a horribly malevolent and greatly powerful warlock (no more details here to avoid the spoilers) and there is no certainty that he can survive this challenge.

The master of alternate history, Harry Turtledove, is also a professor of history and his speciality is the Byzantine empire - and it shows very much in this book. The ennemies (Makurans, equivalents of Persia and Ksatrish, the steppe nomads) and allies (Vaspurakaners, who are the local version of Armenians and Halogans, who are the equivalent of the Varangian guard) of Videssos are also very well described.

This is a very well written, original, smart and very erudit fantasy book, with many surprising twists in the action. I enjoyed it greatly and I recommend it warmly.
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on 22 April 2010
Hi all,

This book is the first book of a 4 part videssos cycle by Harry Turtledove. Turtledove has become wellknown for his alternative history/SF books. Full of what ifs. But this series is different from that.

In my opinion this is one of the best series ever written. Might i say the magnum opus of Turtledove. From book 1 till book 4...there is no letdown in quality. Intrigue,politics, romance, battles, adventure, alternative history it's all in this book. It's simply unbelieveble how he was able to combine all these facets in one series. JUST AMAZING. I have read this series so often...and I still enjoy it when i read it all over again.

In this series turtledove was able to buildup the world of videssos, but also buildup the characters involved. Where at the beginning some characters are memorable as archetypical characters...as the series goes on they were fleshed out so much that you learn to care and love them....the goodies and even the baddies.
This series has also one of the most brilliant villains since Darth Vader.
Worldbuilding is excellent , also because Turtledove takes the time to take the readers into the everyday life in videssos. With the romans you are able to learn more and more of the world they have come to. Giving you a peek to how it would be if you are living there.
Even though he used the byzantime world as the template for videssos , it's admirable about the knowledge and details he knows of the people. Like the innerworking of legions. The steppe bow. etc etc.

Sadly people have already mentioned that the videssos world is actually based on the byzantine empire. But this is more than just an alternative world book. When i started this book/series...I did not even actually realise/know it. So i read it purely as just another fantasy book with battles , magic etc etc.
In time I start to realise that videssos is based on byzantine world.. And then the added depth of turtledove's writing come to the fore. The comments/views of the romans takes a whole different meaning. Is like getting 2 books for the price of one.For me it was a very nice surprise.

What I also admire is the topics turtledove involved in this series....from religious strife/war, to rascism and genocide to homosexuality. Not topics u find in alot of other fantasy/science fiction book.

So to finish this all...if you have never read this book/series before. I can't advice you more strongly to give this book/series a chance. You will not be dissappointed and hopefully you will get as much enjoyment out of it as I do.

Sad thing is...being the magnum opus of a writer. Other of his books will dissappoint. Not many writers are able to continue there excellence...but we can always hope.
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on 16 January 2001
This book opens a wonderful 4-part series on the fate of some 1500 Roman soldiers and one Gallic warrior that are magically transported to another world. They become a mercenary force in the army of the Empire in which they find themselves, quickly becoming embroiled in the battles and political feuding. Mr. Turtledove is the master of alternate histories, and it shows in these books. One advantage of setting this series in an imaginary world, is the ability to mix-and-match military units and fighting styles that would be totally anachronistic on our world. We see "Norman knights", "Viking axemen", and "Mongols" fighting next to our mini-legion. This provides fascinating food for thought for any armchair generals. Sadly, it is food without any seasoning provided by the author. The tactics used in the battles are not well described. All the battles are decided with a ruse, with hardly any blood shed, or fought out in first-person perspective with little more tactical description than who's to the left of whom at the start. Mr. Turtledove has an incredible knowledge of our history and ancient literature, but I'm not so sure of his _military_ history knowledge. We don't seem to see any brilliant _maneuvers_, just straight up hack-and-slash with a little magic thrown in. The other advantage that Mr. Turtledove finds in his use of an imaginary setting is the ability to explore religion and those who follow it, without offending anyone. Don't misunderstand me, this is done with a light hand, and is not at all preachy, but you definitely see the difference between tolerance and extremism. The magic of this book and series, though, is in Mr. Turtledove's characters. While the many long and similar-sounding names of peripheral characters can sometimes get confusing, his main characters are developed with loving care. I found myself feeling their emotions with them, not too far into the series. All in all, this book and the series are excellent reads. I made the mistake of getting the 2d and 3d books in the series at the same time, making for two sleepless nights that week.
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on 15 February 2003
Come with me to another world.
A sword fight between a ROman and a Gallic druid transports a legion (and hte druid) to an alternate reality.
The Roman organisational skills and legendary discipline overcome overwhelming odds.
THey survive and keep battling on.
Interesting and intriguing enough to buy the next book.
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on 2 August 2009
This is a delightfully silly romp, much as one would expect from Turtledove. The premise is absurd, but once that's over and done with the tale is enjoyable, if also lacking in any merit whatsoever. But who cares? I certainly don't.
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on 29 December 2012
This book was... interesting. Let's just say that. I know that it has a lot of positive reviews and many people really love it (and I can see why) but there were several things about it that just didn't sit right with me. Let's start with the basics. A Roman detachment encounters a Gallic one during Caesar's war of conquest. During the fight the Roman tribune Marcus Aemilius Scaurus and the Celt Viridovix cross swords (given to them by Druids of course), and the swords magically transport them to Videssos. Once there they become mercenaries for the Videssan emperor Mavrikios and prepare to invade the western realms where an evil wizard is running amuck.

I'm trying to be as unbiased as possible here, but if you can read that opening paragraph without feeling it's just a little weird then... well, I suppose that means you're the target audience. For my part I found it strange indeed, and extremely cheesy. I actually enjoy fantasy when written well, but there are so many cheesy '80s tropes that the genre had to struggle to get over before it could be taken seriously. And this book seems to fall right in the thick of them. It's not so much a fantasy novel as a swords-and-sorcery one, and that was a subset of the genre that I never could stand. Magic swords and wizards can be done right, but this feels like something out of Beastmaster more than Lord of the Rings. Basically what I'm saying is that the magic isn't handled particularly well. It is underused mostly, which is a good thing, but when it shows up it tends to be enchanted suits of armor or spells of finding. And it just feels plain odd in the otherwise realistic world.

What's good about the book is that with magic being underused there is more time for basic warfare and political intrigue. And boy is there a lot of that. The world is basically that of Byzantium (more on that later) which means that everybody has a secret and nobody speaks what they're actually thinking. A bad place for a simplistic, honest Roman to be. Fortunately since Roman aristocrats didn't divide off their civil and military positions like they do today Scaurus is well suited to almost any situation. A good deal of this book is contrasting the ability of the fresh new Romans versus the lesser power of the Byzantine state.

The other nice thing about magic being underused is that it gives a solid use for the Romans. Many other books of this sort have to rely on chosen one motifs, or else simply have their hero be an observer since they are basically useless otherwise. Since warfare here is much like warfare on Earth the Romans find that they're actually the best soldiers in the empire. Everyone else is cavalry based, with levied infantry considered the role of peasants. So the Roman heavy infantry can just wipe the floor with everybody, provided that they're not on the open plain. Watching heroes kick butt is always fun, and Turtledove takes particularly good advantage of that here. There is much warfare and all of it is handled well, for as long as there are no spells involved.

There is one other problem that annoyed me, but probably no one else. The Videssans are the Byzantines pure and simple. Choosing a civilization to base yours off of is common in fantasy, but rarely has it been done as slavishly as here. It goes so far as to include the religious differences due to a missing word in their article of faith, their belief in and treatment of omens, and their description of the entire city as full of theologians. There are elements that don't make sense unless you realize this. For example: why are wizards celibate? Because they're really monks. That's why they also have isolated monasteries in the wild even though you'd expect magicians to congregate towards the cities where they can actually use their powers. This copying is done in the names and titles as well. For example Mavrikios is simply Maurice (Mauricius) as spoken in Byzantine Greek. Same with Sevastokrator (Sebastocrator=Augustus) and Avtokrator (Autocrator=Imperator=Emperor). Even more annoying (to me) is the fact that the Romans go along with this and treat Greek names as if they're somehow odd. The commander speaks Greek and so does the doctor, so every time they see a Greek title or word they shouldn't be so totally lost. It's basically like having the Romans not understand Latin. Perhaps it would have worked better if these hadn't been Romans but moderns. And switching locations from east to west does not a whole new world make. The east is still the east, even if you've put it in the west.

A plus, and one that makes it bearable, is that while the world is definitely Byzantine it isn't localized to any particular time in their history. I'd say that the plot loosely follows the period around the battle of Manzikert, but the book certainly doesn't limit itself to that time. The conflict between mercenaries comes from this time too, though it really began in the previous century. I'm rather curious to see whether the rest of the story relates to Manzikert at all, or if it's inspired by an entirely different period.

Now I'm quite fond of the world he has created even if it is a complete rip off. There aren't enough novels on the Byzantines to make any of this particularly cliched. I just wish he'd expanded his nets a bit when searching for influences. When he does so the results are usually good. The religion, for example, doesn't come direct from Byzantium but seems based off Persian Zoroastrianism. The religion is a dualist one that holds there to be a god of darkness and evil (Scotos) eternally opposed to one of goodness and light (Phos). The names Phos and Scotos are Greek for light and dark (think PHOTOgraphy) which is kind of a nice touch. The differences in theology are all based around whether Phos is predestined to win or whether there is a chance of his defeat. The rather subtle interpretation (based on Pascal's Wager) from one group holds that Phos is not predestined to win, but we should act as if he is. Naturally these are considered heretics by the Videssan church. How often do you get theological disputes more complicated than 'my god will crush your god' in other fantasies? The villains of course, worship Scotos. In brief, while it is quite obviously and clearly similar to the Christian religion it is different enough to be interesting and seem fresh.

The characters are decent too, even if they're not overly complicated and can be summed up by a single character trait. The Gaul Viridovix is particularly entertaining as the hard living, hard drinking, ladies man of the group. Aside from him you have the strict centurion, the sarcastic medic, and a lot of undifferentiated soldiers. The imperial family is fairly basic, with the most interesting bit being how Mavrikios and his younger brother Thorisin get along. Mavrikios seems a fairly normal soldier-emperor while his brother is the typical party-loving younger prince. Villainwise this tale is surprisingly lightweight. The main villain is called Avshar, and his introduction has to be a classic example of how NOT to introduce your main villain. He's defeated and at Scaurus' mercy immediately after being introduced. Hardly threatening, even if they do beef him up later. And his main beef with Scaurus was that the Roman had accidentally spilled wine on him. A very petty and forgettable introduction for someone that he's trying to set up as a powerful evil sorcerer.

So in conclusion: I liked the book, but it had some pretty serious hurdles to overcome. The magic is cheesy and the world is too cloyingly similar for a historian to like. If none of that bothers you then you'll probably like the book. It does have a fairly epic battle with major armies using actual battlefield tactics (not as common as you might think in fantasies) and a good deal of politics and religion. The writing is generally good and the world engaging. It tries and often fails to overcome its sword-and-sorcery setting, but on the whole everything else about it is praiseworthy. Definitely a book to check out if any of this appeals to you.

This is the first in a quadrilogy of books called the Videssos Cycle. The other books are An Emperor for the Legion,The Legion of Videssos, and Swords of the Legion, or you can get all four books in a two volume set (Volume One and Volume Two). Turtledove has also written a series of prequels taking place hundreds of years earlier called The Tale of Krispos and the Time of Troubles (Volume I and Volume II). These don't feature Romans so I suspect that I'd like them better. As much as I love the Romans, their presence in this world didn't work as well as it might have.
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on 9 January 2012
The original series set in the world where Turtledove has created some 10 books in total and each one is excellent.
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