Top critical review
A Missed Opportunity
on 27 October 2016
I can only award this novel three stars due to deflated expectation. This was due to the marketing of the book claiming here was the ultimate story of the enigma of the Ninth Hispania, I simply was not convinced.
The author shows impressive knowledge of the period and the legions in the appendices, however this is only partially is revealed in the novel.
Overall the plot is fast paced and kept me reading, only to be stifled by scenes and characters that stretched credulity and left me feeling frustrated.
I cannot accept several main characters would have survived the massacre of the Ninth, if it ever happened. Further, the legate character was two dimensional. There was no mention of the senior tribune or camp prefect, senior officers of any legion, present at the battle or remaining at the fortress of the future York.
The author seems to imply the small cavalry formations attached to a legion were the only mounted troops. What of the four or five hundred strong auxiliary wings and infantry cohorts that would have been in a supporting role?
There is also some confusion regarding the medical services. A Medicus or senior doctor would be in overall charge, supported by male nurses or capsarii who could be legionaries with special training. Orderlies could have been civilians or slaves. The Medicus may have held a similar rank to a centurion.
Finally, I was unclear how many cohorts actually marched north to fight the barbarian Brigantes, three then four were mentioned. I find it difficult to believe such a small detachment of no more than two thousand legionaries and officers would have advanced north without at least as many auxiliaries in support.
Where were the other cohorts? One is stated as remaining at the fortress of Eboracum, the others must have been on detached duties. No mention is made of the missing cohorts in the novel, although research suggests they may have been in Holland or on the Rhine frontier.
The power struggle in Rome and accession of Hadrian as emperor was vividly described, with Attianus as the clear villain, the prefect of the Praetorian Guard. The early stages of the rising of the Brigantes and attacks on isolated Roman units was also highly readable.
However, overall, a flawed story and a missed opportunity.