Over the last few book of the Gaius Valerius Verrens series i have been forced to re-evaluate my views on Roman fiction writers. They fit into different brackets, there are the Roman crime writers, the Roman mystery writers, the Roman Blood and Guts (or sandals as some would class them) writers and there are the Roman Adventures, this last one for me is the cream of the crop, the beating heart of Roman fiction, getting into the hearts and minds of the characters and how they lived, how they died and how they interacted with the world full of conspiracy going on around them.
In book 1 Hero of Rome, Douglas Jackson wrote what i still consider to be the greatest, most evocative and emotional scene in any Roman Fiction book i have read, the temple scene left me stunned, and wondering if he could ever reach those heights again.
In book 3 Avenger of Rome Douglas Jackson took that skill and spread it throughout an entire novel. The back and forth plot lines with Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo coupled with the fast paced action packed plot made book 3 one of the best Roman fiction books written.
Book 4 Sword of Rome, for me had too much to live up to, how on earth could it rise to the heady heights of Avenger?
It tried and it made a damn fine job of it. The book covers the early part of the year of the four emperors, and reading it made for an interesting comparison to Henry Venmore Rowlands The Last Caesar and Sword and Throne: His duology following the trials of Aulus Caecina Severus where Douglas Jackson's follow Verrens and the opposite side under Otho.
This juxtaposition helped make the book an even greater experience. I was worried that Serpentius was starting to become too good, a caricature of the perfect fictional character, too good to be true, but then Douglas Jackson ended the book with a battle that was pitched just right, that played just perfectly to his ex-gladiators skills and gave the book a dramatic conclusion and set the series up to see the conclusion of the year of the 4 emperors out with our hero's front and centre and surrounded by intrigue.
If you have never read any of Douglas Jacksons books then although you can read each book as a stand alone, I would still recommend going back to the start of this series
Gaius Valerius Verrens
1. Hero of Rome (2010)
2. Defender of Rome (2011)
3. Avenger of Rome (2012)
4. Sword of Rome (2013)
You will be very hard pressed to find a finer series of books set in the Roman period.
Very Highly recommended
(If you are interested in an author Q&A visit my blog, link is on my profile)
1. Caligula: The Tyranny of Rome (2008)
2. Claudius (2009)
Wow, this is powerful stuff. The hero of this series, Gaius Valerius Verrens, has had a tough time of it to date (including losing his hand) but as a man of honour it will prove difficult to survive in a time of civil war. This is the time of the "four emperors" where politics, ambition and treachery saw conflicting claims to the Roman Empire. It ended with Roman against Roman on the battlefield and that is where this story leads us.
Gaius Valerius Verrens is an honest man who holds true to the oaths he makes, but in a time of changing loyalties he is caught between things and trying to make sense of it. With his loyal Spanish Freedman with him, they carry messages while around them everything is in turmoil. This is a very different Roman actioner, no stoic legions against hairy barbarians here, this is Roman V Roman which gives a new perspective and a sense of menace to the whole book. Author Douglas Jackson captures the period and that sense of menace very well, and with Verrens as our viewpoint a turbulent and violent piece of history is presented in an exciting and enthralling way.
on 20 August 2013
Great,Brilliant,Fantastic and that was before i open The Sword of Rome and discovered that Douglas Jackson had me looking for more words to add to the praise of the Valerius series.The first three books have establish the series as one of the best around and my anticipation that The Sword of Rome would be just as good as the first three books was not missed placed,in fact,in my humble opinion this is the best yet,so Great,Brilliant,Fantastic.Chapter one sets the pace of the book and from then on it never falters,even when you are involved in the cut and thrust of the political dog fight`s of the Emperor`s.The action comes thick and fast as the story builds to the battle of Bedtiacum and Douglas Jackson has you in the heart of the battle,standing side by side with Valerius and Serpentius as the battle rages.With great research and writing of the highest quality,Douglas has produced a page turner that makes you want more of Galus Valerius Verrens and Serpentius and with such a great ending i am sure Douglas Jackson will be hunch over his typewriter plotting more Great,Brilliant and Fantastic books.
on 28 January 2014
It is criminal that it’s taken me so long to read ‘Sword of Rome’. Particularly given that Doug Jackson’s books are some of the literary highlights of my year. However, events conspired to keep it from me. What that meant was that during that dark and miserable time following New Year, at least I had a book to read which I was confident would be a belter!
I was so right. The Valerius Verrens series is one of the strongest historical series on sale at the moment of ANY era, let alone just the Roman. The first book (Hero of Rome) was one of the best I have ever read, and certainly concerned one of the most tense and memorable scenes of any novel. The sequel (Defender) was a strong contender and surprisingly successful, given the dark content and the controversial subject matter. Then along came book 3 (Avenger) and it was clear at that point that Doug’s series had hit the top of the genre. Avenger was one of my favourite books, perhaps better than Hero, though nothing will ever match the ‘siege of Colonia’ scenes. And with a lot to live up to, book 4 looked like it was fighting uphill, given that its subject matter is already strongly represented in Historical Fiction. Against the odds, Jackson has managed to turn that subject into a novel that vies with the best, and at least matches the quality of his previous epics if not surpassing them.
It was the way the story was told, for me. The year of the four emperors (the civil war of 69AD) is a famous time about which I have read a great deal, and it is hard to find a new angle to examine such a thing. Henry Venmore-Rowland produced a nicely detailed account from a traditional viewpoint. Manda Scott showed us the same events from a most unusual and fascinating perspective. So what was left? Simply, to tell Valerius’ own story using the evens of the time as the pinball table around which our unwilling hero is bounced painfully.
Valerius is an excellently-constructed and believable character. Not a superman in a cuirass or a blue-eyed boy of the people. Nor is he even the embittered veteran. He has avoided or transcended all stereotypes to become a fully rounded character in whom everyone will be able to see something familiar and to their liking. In a similar fashion, Serpentius, his right hand man, is a character who has grown beyond mere ‘supporting cast’ status now, to the point where he could almost support his own spin-off.
In this installment, Valerius, having journeyed to Spain to serve Galba, who is set on becoming Nero’s successor, finds himself drawn into a sequence of events that will see him killing emperors, acclaiming emperors, serving emperors in battle and on secret missions, and standing his moral ground against them – and we’re talking more than one emperor here. Essentially, in this turbulent year, most characters of no conscience could float through the currents by throwing their support behind whoever wears the purple this week. Most characters of conscience would live for an emperor and die for him as the next contender comes along. Valerius is lucky (or possibly UNlucky) enough that while his conscience and his unbreakable word force him to support even lost causes against old friends, blind luck and a pig-headed unwillingness to back down see him bounce back each time.
Hence the pinball analogy. That is what the book will leave you with.
You will experience this heart-stopping time in Roman history from the fertile lands of southern France, to the seething streets of Rome, to the countryside of Latium, the deadly Alpine passes, the forests of Germany, and the beleaguered lands of northern Italy. And Valerius will be your guide.
Apart from the sheer breakneck speed of the plot, and the tense action, there are three things I find recommend Sword of Rome:
Focus on unusual details. What do you know about the First Adiutrix Legion? I know their basic history and they’re quite a fascinating bunch, but I only know them from dry textbooks. Now I’ve had the chance to see them face to face.
Characters. Apart from the powerful continuing characters and at least one truly stunning, wicked bad guy returning, Jackson’s portrayals of the unyielding Galba, the unfortunate Otho, the unwilling Vitellius and the unmanned Nero are fresh and vivid and help them stand out in a year when an emperor could come and go faster than you can put on your pants!
The plot arc. The very obvious plot arc for anyone wanting to write a book on the year of the four emperors begins with Nero’s fall from grace and demise, follows through the numerous brief reigns, and ends with the accession of the dynasty-founding Vespasian. It seems clear. Henry VR split his story into two books, but it was still a standalone story in two halves. Manda covered the arc in one go. Jackson has eschewed the obvious and left the tale in a most unexpected place. Reaching the epilogue, all I could think of was ‘When is Enemy of Rome out?’
So there you have it. Breakneck action, vivid characters, a fresh, believable perspective, and a fabulous plot with a stunning, unexpected end. Don’t want to read it yet? Are you barking mad?
Another masterpiece, Doug.
on 17 August 2013
This is the first novel I've read about the period of chaos and civil war which followed the assassination of the Emperor Nero. It dodges about a bit, as one might expect, but is a super read, as I've come to expect. Plenty of treachery, betrayal and blood and guts - standard fare for this period and much of the Roman Empire.
Gaius Valerius Verrens returns. A Hero of Rome, Valerius is a man and soldier well-known for his false wooden fist, his right hand lost in the service of Rome, the cost of a last stand against the fury of Boudicca. In this fourth adventure or mission, Valerius is caught up in the whimsical death of Nero in AD 68 and its bloody aftermath. Valerius is known for his valour and for his morality, not to mention that most dangerous of attributes - loyalty - and having rejected the throne himself he becomes the tool of those who won't. Servant of Otho but friend of Vitellius, Valerius is sent by Otho to persuade Vitellius not to challenge his new rule and not to march on Rome. As towns, districts and legions choose their allegiances and prepare to make a stand or advance in threat, Valerius is caught in the middle. What makes it worse is that there is a man literally after his blood and as Valerius moves across the empire on his mission to broker peace, this enemy is a constant terrier at his heels. More pleasurable for Valerius, is the appeal of Domitia, first met in Avenger of Rome and here back to give Valerius something much closer to his heart to fight for.
This series is without doubt one of the finest about and has been a highlight of my reading summers for several years now. Last year's Avenger of Rome (Gaius Valerius Verrens 3) was one of my top books of 2012, putting pressure on its successor Sword of Rome. I'm delighted to say that Sword of Rome is at least as good and I would go as far to say that its second half is one of the most exciting, heart pumping and compelling pieces of historical fiction I have read. If you want an example of how tense and exhilarating Roman military fiction can be then look no further. In Sword of Rome there are several standout set pieces (including a wonderful scene crossing the mountains) but the novel contains a siege and a battle that are outstanding. It was a late night before I could put Sword of Rome down finished, feeling drained but my blood pulsing.
Each book in this series could be read alone, including Sword of Rome, but I would recommend that you read each in turn and not deny yourself that pleasure. Like the novels before, Sword of Rome presents an evocative image of the Roman empire in these most notorious of its days. While Valerius is fortunate to have Serpentius, his faithful companion, he is cursed by treacherous friends, as so many were in these times for sure. Some characters seem almost too distorted to be real but this is the period of Nero and this is what life was like for those wanting to hang on to power. Other characters from outside the historical record - such as Juva, the brave sailor who forms the First Adiutrix for Otho - are reminders of the ideal of Rome, so under threat. Juva and his companions fight for Rome; Valerius is doing what he thinks is best for Rome. Yet all the time we are aware as Valerius is not of the treachery, even madness, at work. Nero might be dead but his legacy lives on.
Valerius is a fantastic creation. Different from others because of his arm, such a visible reminder of heroism to those without any, he has to fight all the harder and in battle he has to rely on others. For much of this novel, Valerius is robbed of his wooden fist. He is vulnerable like few heroes of Roman military fiction are. He is also a thinker. Possibly not a good idea at this time.
Sword of Rome ends on a cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers and it is with great expectation and not a little worry that I await the next in the series. Douglas Jackson has an incredible ability to put the reader into the mind of his Hero of Rome Valerius and the result is a powerful rollercoaster that towards the end put my heart and stomach into my mouth. The aftermath of Nero's death was a dangerous time for Rome and here we experience exactly why. Superb. I am very grateful for my review copy.
on 1 May 2016
I'm 65% of the way through and like all the books by Douglas Jackson I've read if you like true to life fiction murder mystery and mayhem and political intrigue and skulduggery.This author is at the top.
on 5 September 2013
Someone cleverer than I said that in the expanding corpus of writers of Roman Fiction, some could hang a good story on a framework of fact, some could write prose that gripped your heart, few could do both simultaneously. I have been reading Roman Fiction since the 1970s, Breem , Vidal, Shipway, Roberts etc., through Holland, McCullough, Davies, Massie, Dietrich, and Scarrow, to Riches and the brilliant if slightly OTT Scott, and the ultimate fusion of these desirable traits is the Verrens quartet from Douglas Jackson.
Don't get me wrong, you don't have to do both perfectly [reanimate and give me back Lysandra, your factually unbelievable but totally engaging gladiatrix, Russell Whitfield!], but Jackson comes closest of all, in my estimation.
From the wicked detail of the assault on Colchester, to the single brushstroke touch of the hair of Maeve blowing from under a cart on the stricken field in Hero, the savage political wars in the Emperor's entourage and early Christian hierarchy in Rome, where hairline actions and alliance shifts mark survival or death in Defender, to the translocation of the same aspects to the physical grind of the terrible wars in the east under the great Corbulo in Avenger, Jackson is master of both.
In Sword he makes the men who rate only as selfish footnotes to the rise of Vespasian in most accounts of The Year Of The Four Emperors humans who live and breathe, and have motivations we can understand. Sometime they are swept along by forces they cannot control to the fates baldly recorded in the history books, on a vast game of snakes and ladders for control of the Empire, but they so nearly jumped a square less or more, which might have changed the fate of the civilised world. Verrens and Jackson tell their story for them, and after you read this, they will never be two dimensional fodder for the maw of fate again. Buy this book. Buy them all. You won't be disappointed.
on 7 September 2016
I started off reading these novels in sequence. I thought that they would be another Cato/Macro like but alas no. Ist story was exciting, in fact the second was quite a good read and started to wain and then this one! Not good at all. Very disapointed
on 6 September 2013
The strongest outing in this series of very enjoyable novels. Well written with action that skips along at a healthy pace. Literally is a 'page turner' as you hate having to put the book down. Any faults? Perhaps too many escapes that stretch credibility just a touch.