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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 18 July 2017
She never disappoints
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on 29 April 2017
V good, but a bit rushed at the end.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 March 2013

After Eagle of the Twelfth i thought Manda had hit the peak of her writing, the story was one of the finest books of 2012 [...]

That book had it all, every facet of a great story existed, a truly action packed emotional ride from start to finish.

Rome Art of War manages to go one better, combining all the aspect of the last book but wrapping it with a level of skill and intrigue that is just dazzling. The key protagonist Pantera is amazingly viewed from all the other key perspectives in the book, giving a highly interesting and engaging view of the over all story. When that is coupled with Manda's impeccable historical research, knowledge and (not widely known) background in crime thriller fiction a whole new edge is opened to your Historical Fiction reading. I don't read many complex crime/ spy fiction books set in the past, if they were all written this well it's all I would read.

I'm going to stop saying "this is the best book this year" because there are now officially too many fantastic books out already this year. What I will say is that you MUST buy this book. If you love crime, historical fiction, books full of action and intrigue and if you want to learn how to write a book that is the pinnacle in multi faceted writing style, then this is the book you must have.

My Highest recommendation


Other Books

1. The Emperor's Spy (2009)
aka The Fire of Rome
2. The Coming of the King (2011)
3. The Eagle Of The Twelfth (2012)
4. The Art of War (2013)

Grave Gold / Dream Walker / Pantera II (2011)

The Last Roman in Britan (2011)
Raven Feeder (2011)

Kellen Stewart Series
1. Hen's Teeth (1997)
2. Night Mares (1998)
3. Stronger Than Death (1999)

1. Dreaming the Eagle (2003)
2. Dreaming the Bull (2004)
3. Dreaming the Hound (2005)
4. Dreaming the Serpent Spear (2006)

No Good Deed (2001)

Absolution (2005)

The Crystal Skull (2008) aka 2012: The Crystal Skull
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on 28 March 2013
There's only one way in which I could say Manda Scott's work is predictable: every time I pick up a new Scott book, I can guarantee it will be new, refreshing, fascinating and totally different from anything that's gone before.

I've loved the Rome series from the first book and it's natural for a series to improve as the reader gets used to the characters, the milieu and the writer's style. Scott's series is different, though. The first and second books followed a style, being third-person tales revolving around a small group of characters based on a central protagonist. The third though, Eagle of the Twelfth, was a wonderful departure, continuing the series while yet taking it out on a wide swing, choosing a new viewpoint and treating the series' main character in an almost peripheral fashion. I'd wondered after that how Scott was going to tackle a fourth book in the series. And the answer is that she's thrown the reader another astounding curve-ball. Rome: The Art of War is a stunning tale written in the most unusual, fresh and astounding way that it will have authors crying out 'Why did I never think of that?'

So what is this astounding style? Well the entire story (which takes place over a surprisingly short space of time) is told in the form of the affidavits or sworn statements of almost all the characters that had a role in it. Each chapter is told from the point of view of another character, in the first-person, and yet each picks up the tale where the previous teller left off, giving the reader a view of the entire story through the eyes of those that were instrumental in it. Once again, as in the previous book, the central protagonist of the series is not the teller - he is the subject of the story instead, and it is interesting to see him being assessed by each teller, often with different views of him. I cannot think of an adequate comparison for the method of storytelling, which in itself is a suggestion of how fresh the style is.

This is, of the entire series, the book most rooted in espionage. Though the main character throughout all four (Pantera) is a spy, this is the first time we've had a chance to see him in his element, doing what he does best rather than in the field, in the provinces. The result is a twisting, turning, often surprising trip into the seedy underbelly of Rome. A comparison struck me at one point that I can only see as favourable. One of my favourite movies of all time is Where Eagles Dare. If you're familiar with it, you'll remember the scene at the dining table with the German officers under the watchful gaze of Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. You'll remember how the story suddenly corkscrews through the revelations of double and triple agents and plans and background set up so long ago that the characters must have live more than one life for a long while. THAT is the direction I found the Art of War going. Magnificent. Another comparison that leapt to mind is the scene of main characters besieged upon the capitol, which put me in mind of the stunning scene of Colchester's temple siege in Doug Jackson's Hero of Rome (to my mind one of the most tense and nail biting scenes ever written.)

Characterisation is, as always, perfect, especially given that a number of important characters or ones that will wind up dead cannot have a say in the tale and are only seen through the eyes of others. I'll largely gloss over this because if you've read books 1-3 you'll know what you're in for, but I will state for the record that I've long had a hidden soft spot for the Emperor Domitian. He may have been damnatio and condemned by history, but we all know who writes the histories and the fact remains that Domitian had a very academic and studious mind, was very popular in a number of important circles, actually repaired Rome's broken economy and probably only suffered history's hammer because of his relationship with the senate. Well, Scott has painted a sympathetic and believable portrait of this strange and complex man and I found that one of the freshest and most memorable parts of the tale.

In short, this is the conclusion of the Year of the Four Emperors, taking the story from Vespasian initial claim to the purple, through to the death of Vitellius and the way being opened for him. It takes the manoeuvring of troops and men (and mostly spies and agents) that has slipped into being a footnote of Vespasian's story and opens it up in fascinating detail, telling the tale closely and with great care. Mixed in with the documented facts are the interwoven storylines of Scott's spies, from the secret network of Seneca to that of Antonia, the network of street urchins that rule Rome's rooftops, the agents of the emperor Vitellius and his cruel and dangerous brother, and so much more, forcing Pantera to call in all his favours and contacts built up over a lifetime in an attempt to put the right man on the throne for the good of the empire.

Rome: The Art of War is a masterpiece. Read it and agree.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 April 2013
Almost a year ago, I had praised Manda Scott's "The Eagle of the Twelth", mentioning that it was the "best so far". For me, this one has turned out to be even better. Arguably, all reviews are somewhat subjective, and this is clearly the case when assessing a piece of historical fiction. Some will tend to be a bit fussy and want the book's historical background to be as "accurate" as possible. Others may be more interested in characterization and want the main characters to "feel real" or even "be likable". Others still may just want to read a good and exciting story with lots of action and suspense and some (like me) just want all of that in each historical novel that they read, and preferably in large doses. This is what I got with this book.

The plot tales place in AD 69, the Year of the Four Emperors that followed the death of Nero and saw four candidates compete and take the throne. By the time the book begins, two of them - Galba and Otho - are already dead and Vitellius, the third one, rules in Rome thanks to the Rhine legions that have put him there. Vespasian, the commander in chief in the East and whom Nero had tasked with putting down the Jewish rebellion, has a difficult choice to make: to let his fellow commanders and troops proclaim him Emperor or to try to refuse to protect the lives of his brother Sabinus, his beloved mistress Caenis and his second son Domitian, all of which are trapped in Rome, and at the mercy of Vitellius and his ruthless brother Lucius.

When I began reading this book, my initial reaction was to sigh and think that this was yet another story about the civil war of AD 69 and Vespasian's successful bid for the throne. In fact, it is essentially a spy story and a thriller, with our usual hero - Sebastos Pantera - sent by Vespasian to Rome in order to stir up trouble against Vitellius and his regime and protect his family. Therefore, contrary to my initial expectations, the story itself turns out to be quite original and takes place mainly within Rome, as Pantera, hunted by the Vittellians, wages his war of subversion against them.

The second main quality of this novel is, unsurprisingly for one of Manda Scott's books, the superb characterization that is on display. Arguably, some characters may "sound and feel" more credible and plausible than others, and readers may prefer some of the fictional characters to others. The historical characters, however, are rather superbly drawn, with the best of the lot being Vespasian and Caenis, in my view. The character of the ageing Vespasian, which I had already found rather remarkable in "The Eagle of the Twelth", is quite simply superb and corresponds to the rather sympathetic and very human picture that both the written sources and his biographer (Barbara Lewick in her superb scholarly book on Vespasian) paint. Close behind are the characters of Domitian (the future Emperor and the last of the Flavians), unsure of himself and of his father's affection, somewhat withdrawn and feeling almost autistic at times, and of Vitellius, who is shown as being both weak and out of his depth, rather than bad or cruel. I was a bit less convinced by the character of Lucius, who did not feel quite so "real" to me as most of the others.

Among the fictional characters, however, the legionary officers on both sides (Geminus, Valens and Trabo) were also excellent, with just about the right mixture of soldier's honour, ambition and ruthlessness to make them believable. Also good, even if we see much less of them, are the generals Mucianus (on Vespasian's side) and Caecina (for the Vitellians). I missed similar portraits, especially that of Antonius Primus (the commander of the forces backing Vespasian and who marched on Rome), with the latter never quite making it into the story (although Petilius Cerialis, a family relation of Vespasian, briefly does). I suppose that this ploy - the growing and nearing menace which is just over the horizon - is another way to build up suspense (and it worked, at least for me!).

Then there is a third feature in this book which makes it a superb piece of suspense: the whole story is told as a collection of vignettes seen from the perspective of the various characters involved in it, as these are mostly questioned as part of an inquiry to investigate the events. This feature is probably the most impressive. It allows the author to present the same events with different perspectives. It also allows for presenting the various personalities involved. It finally adds considerably to the suspense of the whole story, especially since the one of the only ones who is NOT interviewed happens to Pantera.

Finally, you should note that this book can perfectly well be read without having to go through the whole series. A superb and exciting read, finished at 3am, and which I cannot recommend enough...
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 31 January 2014
I looked forward to reading this, the story of the year 69 AD in the annals of Rome, a year when four emperors lived and died, and Vespasian clawed his way to ultimate power. Political chicanery, military might, treason, ambition and greed all gathered and doing their worst in and around the city of Rome.

The premise is great; the way in which the story is woven, as a series of narratives by key players in the story of 69 AD is very inventive, and very worthwhile as a plot device. However, I found myself unconvinced by the novel as a whole. I think it is the characters that I could not bring myself to ‘believe’. I found the historic characters rather roughly drawn, and the fictional characters drawn as larger than life; bigger, brasher, brainer, brawnier, more bitter – ‘too much’ of everything to be realistic.

I’m sorry I didn’t like this book; I really wanted to. But in the end, the characters in a character-driven novel just didn’t do it for me.
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VINE VOICEon 2 December 2016
So, finished at last, the emperor's spy series of novels; when I read the first about seven years ago, I was unsure if I would bother to stay with the adventures and exploits of Pantera, but here I am, more than 2000 pages later and all four completed. Was it worth it? The first was ok, had potential as they say; the second I did not like at all; the third I read on a recommendation - it turned out to be a sort of homage to Rosemary Sutcliff's Eagle of the Ninth, and it was ok. This one, Rome: The Art of War, is, I think, the best of the bunch.

Pantera's allegiances and motives in the first three novels were always obscure and mysterious (whose side, if any, is he on?) - but in this one he is resolutely supporting general Vespasian in the conflict for power in the Year of the Four Emperors. This does not mean that his uncertain past is not used against him as he schemes, plots and manipulates in the Rome of emperor Vitellius in favour of Vespasian. Who can he trust among the armies of spies, soldiers, priests, citizens and slaves? As it happens, almost no-one. At times, the reader wonders - can Pantera himself be trusted? There is huge cast of characters here, all schemers, most with their own agenda; this is a lot of fun, but it does seem too over-wrought, like a series of over-complex dance movements drawn out to excessive length.

Hmmm... I think the best part of the novel is the narrative of the final twenty four hours of Vitellius' rule, of the real and present dangers to the family and supporters of Vespasian - I found this part the most convincing and exciting - but despite much implausibility elsewhere, I was never bored!
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on 26 April 2013
I have loved all four novels of the "Rome" series as much as the "Boudicca" series. The characters are believable and three-dimensional and the plots move along at a cracking pace. This last novel was written in a different style from the others and while I was initially a little anxious about it (if it ain't broke, don't fix it), I trusted Manda Scott to know what she was doing and to my enormous relief, I found it was as wonderful and absorbing as the others.

I'm mildly irritated by the sticker on the cover "As good as Conn Iggulden or your money back"; in my opinion there is no comparison, Manda is streets ahead but I imagine that is a publisher's trick to attract more male readers.

My only disappointment is that this is the last of the series and there is no more to look forward to - I guess I'll just have to go back to the beginning and read them all again.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 March 2013
There isn't another writer of historical fiction quite like MC Scott. Roman history breathes on her pages, largely due to the people she puts on them. The focus is very much on the forces that drive the characters on to change history, whether it be ambition, deceit, lust, fear or love.

The novel begins with the prime mover Vespasian, general in Judaea in the summer of AD 69 and now ready to challenge the emperor Vitellius and his venal brother Lucius. His agent Pantera is given a vital mission. He is sent to Rome to keep safe the three people most important to Vespasian - his brother Sabinus, his son Domitian and his wife in all but name the freedwoman Caenis. Their slaughter would be a higher price than Vespasian is prepared to pay.

The Art of War might be the fourth in this astonishingly superb series but it is as wholly original and seductive as the rest. It could also, if it had to, stand alone. Written as a series of personal eyewitness accounts by those caught in the tumultuous empire-changing days of AD 69, including Pantera the Leopard, one of the most memorable creations of Roman historical fiction, we see Vespasian's rise to power from every angle, from every corner, often from behind the curtain. We are presented with the thoughts of men and women on both sides of the power struggle, most notably Caenis herself; Geminus, a centurion in the Praetorian Guard who draws Pantera's name in Vitellius' lottery of death; the soldier Trabo, an ox of a man, determined to avenge Otho; Jocasta, part of Seneca's infamous but secret spy network, as well as others who move between the different sides. There is not a soul without secrets and watching them all and moving above them are the boys who use the roofs of Rome for their own network of spies.

The art of war is indeed the subject and it has far less to do with the sword than one would expect. It does, though, have an awful lot to do with courage. A superb novel.
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on 17 April 2013
Somehow or another I had missed M.C.Scott's ROME series until now - which is odd, because I've always loved depictions of the ancient world which give it to us warts and all. This excellent novel doesn't stop at warts - it's full of the rough texture, the stench, the duplicity, danger and sheer brutality of those days. No bland marble statues and dignified toga'd senators here, trust me. All sweat, wine, leather, and lots and lots of cut-and-thrust. I note that Scott trained as a veterinary surgeon, which might explain how she knows so much about butchery. But don't imagine that's all there is to it. The love between Vespasian and Caenis, his ex-slave mistress whom he can never marry, is profound and touching. The wealth of political and military and social detail is staggering.

Well, I loved it. Stylistically, Scott manages a good trick: her main character, the snake-hipped and deadly spy Pantera (the leopard, it means, by name and by nature), manages to be the dominant force throughout, and to gain and hold our sympathy, and yet he's the only one of the extensive dramatis personae who doesn't get to tell his share of the story in his own words. He's created from what others say about him, which adds to his sense of mystery and elusiveness. It's like watching Steve McQueen in an old movie: you can't take your eyes off him even when his back's turned.

Sorry, can't write more: I'm out to buy all the M.C. Scotts I missed.
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