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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 11 May 2017
Always a great read from a great authour
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on 5 January 2015
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 11 July 2012
This is volume 5 of the adventures of Ballista (or Dernhelm), the son of an Angle warlord in Germania who grew up as a hostage of the Romans, was brought up at the imperial court and became a Roman general specialized in siege warfare. In this volume, after having been sent on a dangerous mission in the Caucasus, he is now sent with his "familia" on another dangerous mission to the Goths and Heruls living North of the Black Sea.

Apart from Harry Sidebottom's usual research, description of characters and writing style - all excellent - this book has quite a few other things going for it. The other strong point, of course, is that, as in his four previous books, and as another reviewer has mentioned already, the author makes you learn a lot in a rather entertaining way. However, none of these points are specific to this book. There are generic and can apply just as well to any of his four previous books.

The same reviewer thought it useful to warn readers against potential criticism that this book might seem slow paced at time. It does seem slow, at one point, but, far from being a criticism, this is perfectly suitable and it even seems to be deliberate since it conveys very well the impression of an endless trek as the embassy crosses the steppe and seeks to reach the Heruls' camp.

Another point is Sidebottom's choice of the Heruls, of which we know very little, and what we know mainly comes from Procopius writing almost 300 years after the time when the book's story is supposed to take place. This, of course, allows the author more room for invention. To my limited knowledge at last, there is nothing in the sources stating the Heruls practiced cranial deformation (unlike the Burgonds, who did, at least for their nobles) and Heruls were Germanic and not Huns, although their description seems to match the latter in some aspects, but then there is nothing that explicitly excludes it, so why not?

Other bits are fascinating since they offer a glimpse of steppe politics: how Rome (and then Byzantium) strived to keep the various tribes fighting each other and tried to avoid having any confederation becoming too powerful through bribes and alliances. It also gives a rather vivid description of what a steppe cavalry battle could have looked like and felt. Then there is another interesting twist in the story: among the embassy, there happens to be a psychopath that would nowadays qualify as a serial killer so that this book, in addition to being a historical novel, will also have you trying to guess "who dune it" (by the way, there are plenty of "red herrings" and I got it wrong!).

There is one thing, however, that makes this book worth a strong four stars rather than five: it does not stand alone very well. Although, to be fair, there is quite a few explanations as to who the main characters are and what has happened in previous episodes, it is definitely preferable to read the five books one after the other.

Anyway, I much preferred this one (I found Caspian Gates a bit "tepid"). It also seems that Harry Sidebottom has decided to treat us to a tour of the Roman Empire's neighbors and borders in the 3rd century AD since book 6 will be called the Amber Road, coming after the Persians, the Caucasus, the Goths and the nomads North of the Black Sea. Another treat in preparation...
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on 15 June 2017
Good read
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on 21 December 2016
Wolves of the North is my favorite novel so far in Harry Sidebottom's excellent Warrior of Rome series. This time, the central character Ballista and his posse, his familia, venture out into what was for me - and I suspect for most readers - uncharted territories. Prior to reading Wolves of the North I knew next to nothing about the Goth tribes living on the steppes of the Caucasus in the 3rd century C.E., and next to nothing about the Hun tribes in what is now eastern Europe. Reading about the Heruli, the Urugundi and the Alani tribes was like reading science fiction or a action-fantasy (like GoT's Dothraki). The author seemed to be having fun imagining our small group of Romans into this hostile and very alien environment. He also had fun playing with genre, weaving a serial killer whodunnit sub-plot into his action adventure.

I found this book immensely entertaining, maintaining the high standard of the previous four Warrior of Rome installments but shaking up the formula. I look forward to Ballista's further adventures.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 July 2012
As with all of Harry's books I expect that some will call the book slow, over detailed etc. But that's just not the case.

Harry's books and this one in particular are wonderfully written, he has an eloquent way of weaving the descriptive with the action. Like the history teacher everyone wants, you learn while you are entertained.

There are I'm sure a couple of readers out there who will once again claim to know more than the author about history but because there are always times that a fictional author must bend the facts and timeframe to fit the plot and its pace they need to get over that. Any changes are well explained as usual and all done with the very best of intentions to keep the latest story on plot and pace.

As usual our hero Ballista isn't just a 2D character, I always found him to be well rounded and by book five he is a living breathing hero, the good the bad, the imperfect, the stress and strain of position and command, all witten to give you fully rounded REAL person, with a supporting cast just as well written. I personally found even more realism with book five because of the chaotic swirl of the barbarian world clashing with the civilised order that was Rome.
Add a large dose of intrigue that usually accompanies the corrupt world of Rome and all its dealings, both from a family level through to movers and shakers in power. Ballista a Roman by accident / circumstance and deep down a barbarian at heart. This really does make for the most complex and intricate story so far and the best.

Highly recommended

Product Description
In the fifth novel in Harry Sidebottom's acclaimed and bestselling Warrior of Rome historical fiction series, Ballista returns in Warrior of Rome: The Wolves of the North to undertake yet another epic mission - while the Roman Empire reels in chaos around him.
AD 263 - the Roman Empire is close to turmoil, violent uprising threatening to shatter the fragile balance of power.
In the north, the tribes are increasingly bold in their raids on the Imperium - their savagery unlike anything Rome has known before. Ballista must undertake his most treacherous journey yet - a covert attempt to turn the barbarians against each other. He must face the Heruli - the Eaters of Flesh, the Wolves of the North - the most brutal tribe of them all. As Ballista and his retinue make their journey, someone - or something - is hunting them, picking them off one by one, and leaving a trail of mutilated corpses and terror.
Ballista is in a strange land, among strange people, but is it possible that the greatest threat may come from within his own familia?
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on 24 August 2015
Harry Sidebottom is one of the better authors around today in this field of historical fiction. You absolutely feel like you are there, very descriptive characters and battles. A first class series.
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on 3 August 2012
Well here we are back for another adventure with Ballista et al! You just have to throw in a bit of latin when you talk Harry Sidebottem and that is the full extent of my vocabulary!

We find ourselves this time in the company of a psycho killer who has somehow inserted himself in the familia Ballista. Who is this seeming goodguy sneeking out into the night to play seven little indians (or should that now be native americans?)with the cast list? Not telling!

As if this wasn't enough to worry about, the out of favour Ballista has to come to terms with a curse put on him last time out, being sent to politik a bunch of Steppes nomads who were driven into the wilderness by his Grandad, and then getting sucked into a war that really shouldn't be any of his business.

Well there is enough story to think about. Was it any good? Yes it was. I felt it did, like last time out, shamble along a bit before it got going and became a story, and the distracting Mastabates was back, but Harry rarely disappoints and he does action as well most and character illustration better than many. So once we got out onto the steppe it was pretty gripping stuff as a tribe rather amusingly called the Alan's try and kill our old Hell's Angle Ballista.

The ending was not what I was expecting but frustratingly I can't talk about it without some fairly heavy weight spoiling. So I won't. If you haven't read Sidebottem's previous books you will struggle with much of the sub plots in this, if you have read them, you know they are at times laugh out loud funny(I will never put lol in a review of mine!) but tragic and moving in places too.

Good stuff Harry, we're nicely set up for the next episode.
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on 16 January 2016
The best of the series so far with a great sense of quest, of strange cultures and geography. Battle scenes are vivid and gripping. It's better than the later series about the Caesars.
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on 24 July 2012
As a standalone book it would not get four stars but having read the previous books I found this one just as enthralling.For me, it was a little less educational than earlier books and there was a greater concentration on the human side of the characters Sidebottom has created. Hopefully the next installment will arrive sooner than this one did.
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