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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 24 April 2012
I've waited until I finished the third book in this series before posting a review of any of them, and for a particular reason. Most of the historical series I've read consist of a new separate story with each book, often defined by a narrator's pause or some such device. Most series are different stories with different themes that build a series.

Wile clearly part of a series, Tony's first three Empire books are different. To me they follow on so closely and seamlessly that the series so far could easily be seen as one huge story spread over three books with appropriate pauses between releases. The stories are readable independently, for sure, but the best will be got from them by reading them one after the other. Quite simply, you can't read one book of this series without wanting to go on with the story. In order to get the best from the story, you need to read them all, and for the best possible results, I would suggest back-to-back.

A second thing that I would say that concerns each of Tony's works is what I consider his greatest strength as an author: The gritty military reality of his tale-telling. I have spent some time in my life, in a civilian situation but alongside men of military units, and there is something so authentic about Tony's characterisation that it felt truly familiar and real. You will find it hard to disbelieve anything about Tony's depiction of the legions, auxiliary troopers, the cavalry, their structure, style, attitude and actions. While no one can confirm exactly how soldiers then spoke and acted, it's hard to believe they were any different from the modern military and Tony has made these ancient soldiers understandable and relevant to the modern reader.

I feel that it is better for me to review the series as a whole, which I have given an appropriate 5 stars of 5, and then add a short section on the individual novel. I find it almost impossible to put down Tony's books and eagerly await the Leopard Sword to see what new direction the series might take.

Book One

Wounds of honour is a wonderful beginning, introducing a number of characters that you will love and that will go through the series with you.

From the protagonist, a fugitive from Imperial justice who will continue to take your breath away in exciting and violent ways as each new talent of his becomes apparent, to the grim centurions who have served long on the frontier, to the oily son of a Roman aristocrat seeking the hero's downfall, the story takes place against a background of violent war and tribal pride, beleaguered forts and inter-unit rivalries, and centres around a 'training of mistfits' theme that is both exciting and humourous at times. The book has a solid and exciting concusion while clearly not finishing the whole story. Wounds of Honour introduces the reader to life on Hadrian's Wall in an era of troubles, to the auxiliary units that serve there and, in particular, to the First Tungrian cohort, who will become central to the series.
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on 6 November 2009
This book fits neatly into the Roman fictional history genre and has a well researched structure similar to Harry Sidebottom's books, whilst containing plenty of action reminiscent of Simon Scarrow.

The author has quite cleverly created a unique and subtle writing style where the reader learns more about Roman military life and social customs, but in a way which does not detract the reader's attention from the story and most importantly the action!

With the ever increasing number of books which saturate this genre, you may well ask yourself whether you should bother with this one and begin a new series. Well in my opinion if you love Roman history, particularly Roman Britain, then this is a book for you. This is a superb first book which lays good foundations for a potentially excellent series.

Strong characters with intriguing personalities and mysterious histories combined with a breath of treason are aspects which feature strongly in this first book. A number of loose ends have been left at the end of the book and I expect that these will form the bedrock of the second novel.

An enjoyable, informative novel which I highly recommend to those who love the genre.
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on 24 November 2009
The content has been well covered in other reviews. I would just like to back this as a terrific read that would appeal to anyone who has enjoyed the likes of Patrick O'Brian, Bernard Cornwell, Julian Stockwin (Kydd series), or Robert Harris. It would be good if the author could polish his style slightly as it is occasionally a bit confusing about who is talking to whom, and what is actually going on - slightly tighter editing would help. However where it just shines out is in its ability to envelope the reader in an absolutely gripping tale of 2nd Century Britain and the military and political intrigues surrounding a young Centurion. I thoroughly enjoyed it and feel slightly mean for taking 1 star off for the occasionally confusing writing. Nevertheless it's a cracking read, and while the language is a little strong at times for Aunty Mabel, it's never superfluous or inappropriate. I can't wait for the next volume, and have high hopes of reading a lot more from this author.
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VINE VOICEon 4 October 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is the first in a trilogy based on the Roman Empire - you could be forgiven for groaning, because it's all been done before hasn't it? Well the subject matter has been covered before, but Riches brings to life the experiences of soldiers at the Empire's front line in such a vivid fashion, it would be a shame if this series is ignored.

While the intrigues and power struggles of Rome form the basis of the plot, it forms only a minor part of the story, which focuses on life at Hadrians Wall, the far reaches of the Empire, where practical concerns take centre stage. And so we follow a refugee from those power struggles, as he overcomes adversity to earn the right lead his troops in a bloody battle against overwhelming odds.

The book really falls into 2 parts, the first covering the arrival of Marcus Valerius Aquila and his elevation to Centurian, and the second the campaign against the barbarian hordes from North of the Wall. Riches detailed knowledge of the Roman Army is well to the fore throughout, with a host of interesting details which add to the plot without overwhelming it. The descriptions of the campaign and the climactic battle are simply superb, providing an insight into the reasons why the Roman Army was such a formidable fighting force. The only reason why I didn't give the book 5 stars is because I found some of Marcus early exploits' were a little too hard to believe, but that's being picky.

This is a rattling good yarn, full of duty and comradeship as well as betrayal and treachery. If you have read any of the many books which cover tha same topic (by Iggulden, Scarrow at el) I suspect you will really enjoy this - I know I did, and I'm looking forward to the next instalment
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VINE VOICEon 8 October 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The book hits the ground running. It starts out with an excellent description of a fight, which introduces all the key characters in one strong swoop.

Marcus Valerius Aquila, the main character, is a young man, many miles from home because his family has been accused of treason. He is naive about the realities of politics and life, yet has a strong hand for sword-play.

We meet Dubnus, a Briton who is fighting with the Romans. A hard man who after a while takes a liking of Marcus and is his right-hand man for the remainder of the book.

Rufius is the older, wiser man who understands the games of the world and knows how to play them to his advantage. Although he doesn't feature hugely in this first book, I have a strong feeling his input into Marcus' life will increase over the next 2 installments.

The pace of the early part of the book continues as it begins. The plot thickens rather rapidly with the introduction of varying layers of Roman hierarchy.

The writing is easy to follow, has some choice words thrown in, which fit with the characters. The book kept me interested and kept me going back to it as often as I could.

However, I felt the end drag a little and maybe that was partially my confusion with the interchange between sometimes referring to a character by their title and sometimes by their name. Also the end was concentrated very much on the tactics of battle which meant digging into ones imagination to try and picture the scene. The writing doesn't necessarily bring up the images easily.

It ends at a bit of an anti-climax but that is understandable given it is one of a trilogy.

If you are expecting to learn about the Roman history in Britain, this isn't the place to look. This is set many years into the occupation of Britain. It doesn't deal in giving reason for invasion or any of the historical background. Having said that, it provides a more 'earthy' insight into what life was like for the Roman army, and also the local tribal armies etc.

Overall, it was a decent read. The storyline itself is not exceptional, and neither would I say was the writing, but if you are a veteran at such novels, or trying one for the first time, you can't really go wrong with Wounds of Honour.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Aiming for a cross between the old-fashioned adventures of Rosemary Sutcliffe's classic young adult adventure stories and the grittier approach of Bernard Cornwell's novels, Anthony Riches' Wounds of Honour gets off to a terrible start with an atrociously written opening chapter. It's not so much what happens as how it's described, which reads like a collection of every pulp cliché you thought had been drummed out of service years ago. Thankfully, while the editor must have missed that chapter, the rest of the book is a huge improvement - the writing may not be high literature but it is very decent storytelling that doesn't let clichéd writing make the plot seem even more clichéd than it is too often. And the plot is rather familiar, to put it mildly, with a disgraced young Roman officer sent to the end of the Empire to be executed after his father falls from grace and the Emperor orders his family wiped out. Instead he finds himself hiding out in a hardened regiment stationed along Hadrian's wall, having to - almost - work his way up from the non-commissioned ranks, earn the respect of his untrusting men and survive to clear his name at just the same time as the local natives are getting restless...

While at times it's hard to shake the feeling that Sutcliffe's Frontier Wolf (Puffin Books) - also about a disgraced young officer who finds himself beyond the Wall during an uprising - was a particular favourite of the author (completely wrong, as it turns out), it's an entertaining yarn that does exactly what it sets out to. It may not leave a lasting impression or do much that's new, but it's certainly recommended for fans of the genre.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
No doubt this review will attract derision from many who are dedicated to the ever going plethora of novels based on or around the Roman Empire. So I am ready for negative comments on this review.

That said I am a great fan of the genre and historical novels more generally. I prefer best those that recreate on the page the minutia of and detail of the 'lost country' which is the past. As a professional University-based historian I value the allure of these re-creations and, to a lesser degree, the addressing of significant events impacting on and involving the Roman Empire.

I am afraid that this book is amongst the poorer of the offerings. Its tale is a little improbable focussing on an exile from Rome who, travelling to the far extremity of the Empire - Hadrian's Wall - is both discovered and largely protected. Of course the young exile, although previously an aristocratic member of the Pretorian Guard, is not tested in battle. He performs surprisingly, but predictably in the novel's context, well. It reflects the writings of Scarrow which likewise focus on individuals and equally lack the the historical minutia of books by many others. Furthermore it is not as readable as the lightweight Scarrow (although I admit I have his latest book awaiting reading in a bookcase) and the second half of the novel is rather predicable and rather tedious.

Finally, the map included in the front matter of the book is poor, as many historical novels have poor maps, but fails to include several key locations. For subsequent novels - and this is already a trilogy - the author/publisher should spend a little money on a cartographer.

Overall there are better authors and better books about. See other of my reviews selecting, in my limited view, some of these. This is the first book of a trilogy, as is the fashion with such novels. For me the author needs to raise his game, but I have said much the same of Scarrow (whose Napoleonic novels are even worse). If you are used to the genre I suspect many will agree, if nothing else, that there are better novels. If you are a Roman historical novel lover but have read little it's worth a look - hence two stars.
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on 10 November 2016
Super writing with a very good storyline. I still find it more difficult electronically to refer to the map and back to the story than in paper form but that's my fault nothing to do with the book. Thoroughly enjoyed this one. I have read a few of these blood and sandals stories but this is one of the best. Need to get on to read the next one now
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on 13 November 2016
What a great story. Roman Empire, Hadrian's Wall, Scottish tribes, a Legion and battle action to savour and enjoy. Hero's and traitors with a lot of characters mixed in. Just brilliant. I am looking forward to starting the next book.
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on 16 September 2009
It is always with a sense of trepidation that one approaches a new author in the field of historical fiction. When it is a genre awash with heavy-hitters like Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden and Wilbur Smith there is always a sense of what is almost sympathy with the newcomer. As a reader you are hoping against hope that this new author will pass muster and be good enough to compete with these long standing names, but you know deep down it is unlikely. You want the novel to be entertaining, captivating and give a real sense of the period. Especially when you consider the various periods that have been covered by the heavyweights of the genre, there are some seriously tough acts to follow.
Fortunately Riches does not disappoint. In fact, the very opposite is true, he has produced a first novel of extreme maturity and worthy of high praise. Set during the reign of Emperor Commodus, the action of this debut novel is based in the contested region around Hadrian's Wall, ever plagued by war. Unruly tribes from the North are counterpointed by the ever present threat of uprising from the Britons living South of the wall. The Roman legions present are having to balance these various dangers as well as the difficulties of defending such a vast area of land with relatively few men.
The main protagonist is a young Roman sent to the end of the Empire, initially to join one of the front line legions. However the carefully woven plot soon pulls young Marcus Valerius Aquila away from his intended path - throwing him unbidden into a tale of conspiracy, murder and greed. Riches manages to succeed in drawing the plots and intrigue of Rome herself across the Empire to disrupt and destroy the lives of both good Romans and the Britons who serve them.
Marcus' character is well supported by the allies he meets along the way, creating for us not only a believable persona but also a core of central `cast' members for whom the reader soon develops real affection, or antipathy depending how Riches weaves the narrative. The confrontation and battle scenes reflect the brutal violence of the age, and succeed in emphasising to us just how short and bloody life in AD 182 could turn out to be. The evident historical knowledge of the period only ever enriches it, and never weighs down the reader's enjoyment.
This is where Wounds of Honour really succeeds. By the mid-point of the book there is a real momentum building up, and I found myself rooting for Marcus and his companions while generating real anger against those that make their best efforts to undermine or kill him. The best way I can communicate just how captivating the novel is would be to recount how the arrival home of my girlfriend passed unnoticed for fifteen minutes by me, knee-deep in the mud and blood of Roman Britain. It was only after a pointed cough and "hello" that I managed to drag myself back to reality.
Whilst this may not be the ideal advert, it certainly exemplifies how enthralling this work of fiction turns out to be. As a reader who has a passion for historic fiction of any era, and has read the Emperor series by Iggulden, I was more than pleasantly surprised at the quality of this newcomer to the scene.
You will not find me levelling any criticism at Riches' work, it would have been easy in the early stages when there is a level of confusion to the plot for Riches to lose the reader, largely due to the similarities between various Roman names and the fast moving nature of the story. However, what some would consider an unavoidable difficulty is skillfully overcome as the twists and turns reveal themselves, breaking any misgivings like barbarians against a shield wall.
So how does one summarise this new entrant into the world of historical fiction? Capable, believable, exciting. Enthralling. Intriguing. Although it is a rarity to pour such praise onto a volume, in the case of Wounds of Honour this reviewer was more than a little impressed. The most significant cause for annoyance is that the second volume in the series is not released until April 2010, leaving me with an awfully long time to wait before I discover where Marcus' tale will travel next. The best things come to those who wait - so I am waiting!
Cornwell, Iggulden, Smith - Beware. There is a new power on the rise.
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