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4.7 out of 5 stars

TOP 100 REVIEWERon 5 January 2017
This is – once again - the story of the Boadicean revolt, but an older and rather original version of it since this book was first published in 1968. The story is told by Aulus Plautus himself who was legate and propraetor in Britannia that is the military governor-general at the time of the insurrection.

This first person narrative allows the author to draw in an impressive way the (fictional but very plausible) character of a Roman commander in chief and aristocratic Senator at the time of Nero.

Aulus Plautus is a talented, proud, active and arrogant commander who is well aware of his worth and intends to see it recognised by all, starting with the Prince himself. He is also a very human character and the embodiment of Roman virtues but one that has a temper and who strives to remain calm and cold headed. He is determined, hard-working, though and experienced with high standards that he applies without flinching to himself and requires from his subordinates. Finally, he is an ambitious governor and general, a “safe pair of hands” who dreams of glory and of finalising the conquest of Roman Britain, and of modern Wales and Brigantia in particular, therefore succeeding where several of his predecessors have failed.

Essentially, he is a military man and a Senator whose model is one Julius Caesar, and the Republican warlords more generally, at a time when it could be rather just as unhealthy – if not more - for an Imperial military governor to be too successful and it would be so incompetent that it became disastrous. In fact, through his character’s eyes, George Shipway shows rather well what the two main and unforgivable sins of a governor or a procurator were. Rather than brilliance or simply competence and rather than honesty, these were sedition or rebellion against the Emperor and cowardice in the face of the enemy or dereliction of duty. Corruption and oppression, as shown by the behaviour of the Procurator who contributed to push the Icenians into rebellion but also by the vindictive attitude of Aulus Plautus himself in exacting retribution from the defeated rebels, only became problems when they got out of hand and fostered rebellion, destruction and loss of imperial revenues on a large scale.

In a rather fascinating way, the author also shows how Aulus Plautus’ initial complex and skilful plans were derailed through a mixture of personal ambition and stubbornness (his) and imperial politics and court infighting back in Rome on which he had no control whatsoever. An interesting feature is to show that as a competent general and military governor, he was aware of growing unrest in Eastern Britain. He was also aware of the political context and how this could generate a rebellion because of imperial policy - the growing need to exact more revenue from this expensive conquest and balance the books – and personal interests of Roman traders, bankers and some Senators (starting with Seneca himself) who had made large loans and heavily invested in Britain.

Another interesting feature is the way in which Aulus Plautus reacts to the growing strain and pressure as the signs of the rebellion build up and the increasingly bad news from the disrupted East trickles back to him in the West. The character streaks displayed are relentlessness and maybe even stubbornness with the general refusing to become distracted and influenced into abandoning his campaign, but also increasing vindictiveness as his carefully laid out plans collapse one after the other. While his campaign and victory over Boadicea’s rebellion were both masterful and decisive, George Shipway also shows that it was a close run thing especially given how the Roman general was let down by the commanding officer of Second Augusta.

Plautus’ ruthlessness, steadfastness and his ability to use his limited forces to maximum effect allowed him to snatch a crushing victory out of the jaws of defeat but while the Province remained Roman, it was largely destroyed. Since the Prince had tasked him to make it prosperous and increase its revenues, the imperial governor’s performance, while militarily brilliant, could be painted as less than fully successful, explaining Aulus Plautus’ growing bitterness but also his hatred and desire to exact maximum retribution against the Britons, retribution that went as far as extermination before he was recalled. Skilfully, the author describes a Governor whose Roman aristocratic prejudices - he cannot entirely hide how much he despises the Britons and gets to hate them after the rebellion, without being entirely conscious of it.

Characterisation of Roman officers is indeed the strongest point of this book. It goes well beyond just Aulus Plautus with the characters of the though and reliable Valens, legate of the 14th Gemina Legion and risen from the ranks, the hedonistic, decadent Mamilianus, the aristocratic apparently indolent Legate of the 20th Valeria and the brilliant but hot headed and rash Cerialis, Legate of the 9th Hispana. Also featuring in the book are Frontinus the tribune and military engineer, and a young senatorial tribune called Agricola who would become the father in law of a certain Tacitus.

Cerialis, Frontinus and Agricola were historical characters who did serve under Aulus Plautus. All three would succeed him as imperial governors of Britain and contribute to its conquest, with Cerialis finally having the opportunity to conquer Brigantia, Frontinus to build on a large scale and Agricola to attempt the conquest of modern Scotland.

Interestingly, the reader never gets to meet any of the insurgents, not even the Iceni Queen, since the story is solely told by Aulus Plautus and solely seen through his eyes. This is also one of the main attractions of this superb read and it almost felt like reading the Imperial Governors memoirs. Five stars, despite some minor technical glitches, such as the controversial size of Roman Legions which does not seem to have had a theoretical strength of 5600 apiece.
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on 7 October 2015
Incredibly rich in detail, remorseless in its telling, it is a potent account of the circumstances surrounding the rebellion, including some snippets about the presence of the Jews around Glastonbury, and a comprehensive account of the campaign against the Druids and Silures at Anglesey. Overall, an immersive text which perhaps provides more material than even a history book might, but one that leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste, no doubt reasonably enough, as it conveys the arrogance and indifference of Rome to anything but dominion and self-enrichment. A tale, in short, that smacks greatly of modern nations.
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VINE VOICEon 15 February 2009
This is an excellent tale of the governor of Britannia during the rising of Boudicca. Nero appears not as some insane joke but as recognisably the successor of Augustus. Our hero is sent to his province not for the glory of Rome but to make it earn a surplus for Rome. What might otherwise be just a bit of military history is set in a much more complex model. Once in theatre we are treated to campaigns against a number of tribes described in ways that I am sure old North West Frontier hands must have understood. These culminate in the capture of Anglesey, but as if the relentless drive of campaign and targets is not enough the rising of Boudicca then occurs leading to the near loss of the province in a scrambling campaign. The book's subject, Suetonius Paulinus, is portrayed as a man of his class and time, and even to the end he never quite understands the politicos. My original version had a foreword by (I think) Auchinleck in which he said how much of his experience in India was paralleled by this account. A worthy successor to Alfred Duggan.
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on 28 December 2014
One of the best reconstructions of the Classical period - and insightful/realistic interpretation of a time when Brits were not the colonisers, but the colonised! The story resounds with verisimilitude!
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on 30 November 2015
Quite the best historical novel I have ever read. It started a lifelong love of Roman Military History. The background to the events are quite believable... (as do the background motives in GS's novels of the Iliad). Brilliant.
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on 4 November 2014
Lost my original to my father many years ago, great to read again.
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on 27 February 2018
An excellent book that brings the Iceni revolt to life.
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on 13 July 2004
I first read this book as a teenager when it was published in hardcover. So it was with a feeling of nostalgia that I purchased and read the re-issued paperback recently. I was not disappointed. Although not the best of the bunch if historical novels set in the Roman period,it is much better than some. The characterisation of a somewhat pompous, self-centred Roman aristocrat being posted to the outer reaches of the Empire by an imperial court dominated by the factions surrounding Nero is excellent. The interactions between the Governor Suetonius Paulinus and the range of minor characters from native Britains to other Roman commanders and officials is well composed and the story is taught even if as in all 'true' historical novels, one knows the outcome. As a 'biography' it correctly approaches subject from the Governor's perspective. For example, Boudica is treated as a rebel (terrorist?) not a national hero which from the viewpoint of a Roman, is entirely correct. A good read.
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VINE VOICEon 27 February 2006
A truly epic book that gives a fair account of the troubled times of the early Roman occupation of Britannia. This book presents Suetonius Paulinus as a deeply troubled man, isolated, under pressure and in desperate need of a bit of good luck. He is flawed, wracked with doubt and fails to see his own failings in his treatment of others. As such, it's a real warts and all "diary" of a man pushed to his own extremes and regardless of how we feel about the Romans, it's hard not to want Paulinus to triumph and each turn of bad luck hits the reader in the same way it must have hit Paulinus. The news of the massacre of the IX Legion hits like a sledgehammer and only makes you want Boudicca to be defeated all the more. The portrayal of events recreated in the book pull no punches in terms of the savagery of the times and some readers might find the battle sequneces a bit too full-on: the assault on Anglessey is reminiscent of the opening 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan for its brutality and unrelenting slaughter. But the book is much more than a series of battles as it has warmth and a believeable humanity about it that is so obviously missing from those dreadful books by the likes of Conn Iggulden. Furthermore, the book is told from a wholly Roman perspective so it would make an interesting contrast for anyone who has read novels told from the angle of the Celts. George Shipway was a man of great talent and this magnificent book deserves a place on anyone's bookshelf so do yourself a favour and buy a copy. For those who have read Eagle In The Snow by Wallace Breem and thought you wouldn't find another in the same class, here it is. Savour every page.
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on 15 March 2015
This is a fictional account of the Imperial Governor sent to Britain at the time of Boudicca's revolt. The writing reads pretty well on balance, with some chapters reading very fast as a quick moving thriller, although at times it felt to me that it stumbled into too much military detail of unit movements which neither really drove the plot nor gave me much entertainment.

Where the book shines is in giving a feel for the environment of ancient Rome; the governor taking crazy decisions because of political pressure; the overwhelming military superiority of the trained legions; the corruption and brutality that pervades almost everywhere; the despair that triggered the revolt. I suspect much of the low level detail is fanciful, but it gives a plausible and thorough feel for the period in an enjoyable read.
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