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on 14 September 2013
I love the historical fiction genre and the Roman period in particular, with the late republic era a personal favourite, I have read Ceasar'sowntext, many historic novelson ancient Rome and its campaigns, and some actual historical reference texts, and was thus anxiously anticipating this one
what a dissapointment!
The author writeshe had an idea - because Ceasar wrote with political aims in mind, he must omitted some good advice he got from people around him, so he created a legion commander (legate) called Fronto, who is supposedly one of these brilliant military men history neglected. So far so good.
Who is Fronto? we don't know. Like the book as a whole, he has no context. We know nothing about his history, how he got to command the 10th legion, nothing until Ceasar is already with them in the field, except that he spent some time with Ceasar in Spain (before he was consul). No context is bad. Fronto is not an interesting character, however - not a good thing for a hero of aseries
we know he likes to drink - hedoes 3 things in life, participate in battles, talks with mates (fellow legates, centurions, ceasar and othe officers - almost never with regular legioneries), and drink wine. The author describes drinking much more than he does other activities, which would have been bad because readers of historical novels are probably not interested in roman AA, but is actually quite alright because the author describes battles ina boring, confused,confusing and inaccurate way.
the books is full of quite fantastic descriptions of battles and tactics - and riddled with errors
the author has the German barbarians attacking in a falanx, which the Romans cannot hurl Pila at because they ran too fast (!), but do break by paul-vaulting to the rear echelons.... the romans have the Germans "between hammer and anvil" - oh wait
but there is no anvil, just an assult from the front... the Romans are worried about their supplies - of Corn (introduced from the new world 1600 years or so later), Ceasar returns to Rome after the campain season is over - he could not do it in reality, and did not - he held pro-consular imperium and you cannot enter rome and have your imperium held - Ceasar actually did something like this after fighting in Spain - forgoing his pro-preatorian imperium (and his triumph) in order to enter Rome and be a candidate for consular elections, but not, as the author had us believe, after the first of one campaign seasons in Gaul.
All could perhaps havebeen excused had the plot been interesting, the battle and strategy and politics intriguing, as they musthavebeen in real life andare in other historical novels of even less interesting real and imaginary events in Roman history. But here they are not - no context, no strategic view,poor battle descriptions in the most part and instead of a legate hero enabling the reader to see the interesting bits of life of the commonsoldier as well as of the general, all we are left with is Fronto's per- and post-battle drinking
I really wanted to like "Marius's mules", and so I ambitterly disappointed and will not buy the other books in the series
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on 6 April 2015
Julius Caesar is a man whose ambition knows no bounds and Marcus Falerius Fronto, commander of the 10th Legion, career soldier and companion of the general for ten years, knows it all too well.

Caesar has assembled an army in northern Italy, his target Gaul, a country Rome has been at peace with for years. But Caesar’s desire for greatness and revenge drives him to engineer a war with the Celtic tribes that inhabit the region, no matter what it costs his men.

The Marius series has been on my radar for a while and, on the strength of this novel, so will the rest of the collection be.

Before going on I have a confession – I like novels set in the Roman period and I write them too, so it takes quite a lot to impress me. So what sets this novel apart? After all, there have been masses of books written about Caesar.

Well first is Caesar, whilst being central, he isn’t. Yes, he’s the hub around which the main characters (e.g. Fronto) revolve. He is an incredibly well known historical figure at the end of the day, but Turney doesn’t allow him to dominate. In fact it is the other figures that really drive the action along. Caesar provides the events, Fronto and his colleagues provide the detail, the activity, the personal touch.

Another aspect I appreciated was that often it was Caesar’s generals that made quite significant tactical decisions (and mistakes) that determined whether a battle was a success or a failure. In other words the great man wasn’t the omnipotent being portrayed in other stories.

Third, and critically, Turney has spent a significant amount of time on research. The battle scenes are very, very well drawn – they are compelling, believable and feel accurate. Caesar himself is portrayed as self-serving and brutal. Fronto, although admiring the man, does not trust him. So there are other human elements at play here beyond the simple aspect of ‘go and kill the enemy’. For example at the beginning of each chapter are two or three Latin words or phrases with an explanation as to what they mean, usually related to subsequent events. It adds colour to the narrative without long, drawn out and distracting explanations.

In summary this is an intelligent, well researched historical fiction novel that stands head and shoulders above the run of the mill tales of this type. Anyone with an enjoyment of this period should look at Marius’ Mules.

Originally reviewed for Books & Pals blog. May have received free review copy.
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on 30 May 2012
It's not often I come across a book I can't finish through sheer boredom... but this book succeeds.

I bought this book on the strength of the reviews here on Amazon and I'm quite baffled as to what the fuss is about. This book isn't badly written, it flows well enough and the style is easy to read - hence two stars, but that's it.
There is simply no depth to the story, narrative or characters. It reads very much like a schoolboy adventure novel in the style of Willard Price. It's a convoluted series of events with no real detail or description of how these events occur the way they do, they just happen. Any hint of intrigue or sub plot is usually resolved within a dozen pages. I'm a fan of this period in history but the lack of detail and authenticity meant this novel could have been set anywhere and at any time. Fans of Roman history might be disappointed by the complete lack of atmosphere and it makes the likes of Scarrow and Iggulden look positively high-brow.

Every character is either a conniving yet strangely ignorant political schemer, or a quietly competent yet admirable career soldier. While we learn the history of the main protagonist there's nothing to distinguish him in terms of personality, outlook or dialogue from half the other characters. As such he is very two dimensional and uninvolving. Since he is effectively the narrator it makes for a pretty dull novel.

That being said it isn't particularly difficult to read. It's easy to put down and pick up again but I prefer something with a bit more depth and atmosphere.
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on 25 November 2016
Having finally finished this at 4am
I am both glad I finished it and sad that I took so long with it.
While there are many other books that are centered around the hard bitten noble centurion. This is the first (of a series) that I have found that focuses on the higher ranks, Legates, Tribunes and Caesar himself. At first I was a bit wary that this might be yet another volume in the adventures of Caesar, that have appeared over the years. Happily this is not the case and JC appears upon occasion to give orders or discipline the hero(s). Legate Fronto and a few others.
The central character is a professional soldier rather than than political one as such he is more competent than some of the others around him. Even if he does like a drink or three. Other good points are the way Caesar when he appears is portrayed as a bit of a warmonger intent on conquest. Also rather than the all knowing general he history as painted him. He will listen to his staff officers, in particular the heroic Fronto.
The story as it covers the invasion of Gaul (France and other bits) only up to the defeat of Ariovistus so there is much more to come. So more fights to be won, drinks to be drunk, centurions to shout at and generals to advise. Life is never simple for a Legate in the Legions.
Only thing I did not like was the (spoiler) scene is where Fronto engages in single combat with a captive. Yes it was necessary for the story but in reality would a Legate stoop to such a level? I think not (if wrong I apologize to the writer).
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on 17 December 2013
Like other reviewers I've waded through ( and enjoyed ) the Scarrow, R W Peake etc Roman series. I like books that run in a series because when you get to book 2 you are working with old friends. I liked the attitude of the hero ( Fronto ) in this book .. I hadn't really thought about a senior army officer telling Ceasar that some of his ideas were crap. I had sort of got the idea that what Ceasar said went .. a guy you just didn't disagree with if you wanted to get up next morning. But here we are .. one of Ceasar's top officers having a bit of rebel in him, getting away with murder and facing Ceasar down occasionally. A rebel with a cause, a guy loved by his men, a leader who makes his legion top dogs and even though he rattles Ceasar's cage now again Ceasar tolerates it because Fronto is a "special one". There is a great line in a later book where a Gaul tells Fronto "the tenth is a legion of chaos - that's what makes them the best". A reference to the spirit of the tenth. So in book 1 we get to meet the principal characters as they trundle about fighting and drinking and fighting and drinking and ... er, well more fighting and drinking really .. and a bit of marching and digging. But if you read Roman stories you know they are all like that .. it's the characters that make the story and I reckon in Fronto we have a real character. I even found that a couple of times I was thinking .. "Fronto .. you got to cut down the drinkng man and you need a wash and a shave .. you're really going to blow it with Ceasar this time". I mean, just how do you get away with snoring and farting when Ceasar is trying to plan tomorrow's battle ! Excellent read ...
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 1 August 2011
I always enjoy a good Roman Legion novel - and I was definitely brought to take a chance on this one by it popping up in my Amazon recommendations, and reading positive reviews on the site. It's a funny edition of a book - self-published or somethiing? Not sure - but the typesetting is a little odd.

However, that doesn't detract from a good story - and the reader jumps right into the action with Caesar's Legions being tasked with taking on the Helvetii as they move along the Roman border. We see much of the story from the perspective of Marcus Falerius Fronto, commander of the Tenth Legion, who is known and trusted by Caesar and thus finds himself the recipient of more information than your average Mule. The second part of the book follows with action against Ariovistus as he encroaches onto the territories of the Roman allies, the Aedui.

This is a great story, told with sparse language. Much of the book is conversational; however this is broken up by long passages of the actual battles, told very well and with great action-packed sequences. I like that the story is focused so strongly on the lives and narratives of the legionaries themselves. I certainly felt that the way the Legions were organised and the way of life in the camps and on the march was realistic; I'm not in a position to critically judge, but it all felt very realistic as a reader.

I wondered, while reading this book, what it would be like to read a book written from the other angle - from the perspective of the Helvetii, the Aedui, the Germanic tribesmen and the others who met up with Caesar and the Roman Legions. It would be a great read as well, I'm sure. I've read The Druid King by Norman Spinrad which tells the tale of Vercingetorix, which was a great book. As was The Last King by Michael Curtis Ford, about Mithridates, admittedly at the other end of the Roman Empire. But still, there's great scope for more books written from the point of view of those who felt the wrath and might of Rome. Here's hoping.

Highly recommended, and there is a second book sitting in my pile of books to read, Marius' Mules II: The Belgae, which should be just as enjoyable.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 November 2011
I was delighted to win a copy of S.J.A. Turney's The Invasion of Gaul, which is the first in a series of novels about these heavily burdened, mile marching legionaries known as Marius' Mules (after the popular military hero of Republican Rome Marius) who followed Julius Caesar across Gaul in the mid 1st century BC.

Julius Caesar might be the most important man of the novel but our attention focuses on Marcus Falerius Fronto, the legate in command of the Tenth. Fronto is a man from a wealthy and privileged background but he has turned his back on a potentially rewarding political career in the senate or as a province governor in favour of leading a legion - not for a year or two, but for good. As such, he is one of the few high rankers that Caesar can trust, not that this necessarily means that Fronto trusts him back. As well as Fronto, we get to know his primus pilus, or chief centurion, Priscus, the chief training officer, Velius, the extraordinary military engineer, Tetricus, the commander of the Eighth, Balbus, and Longinus, the legate of the Ninth and commander of the cavalry. And that's just to name a few. There are quite a few more I could mention. That is one of the great strengths of Marius' Mules - it introduces us to a range of men aiming to do Caesar's bidding while keeping their own men alive on the march, in the camp and on the battlefield. After a chapter or two, you'll be very concerned to know how they fare.

The story is straightforward. Caesar is out to win political glory through military conquest and the best way to do that is to stir up the tribes of Gaul and Germania. Matters are helped by the fact that the tribes spend as much time fighting each other as they do the Romans but Caesar isn't after a diplomatic solution. He wants victory, land and the kind of honour he would get from leading the chieftains of Gaul in chains behind his chariot in triumph back in Rome. As a result, this is a novel about life on the march, broken up by regular battles or skirmishes. In the second half of the book, Caesar's mission focuses on one man, the enemy King Ariovistus but to conquer this real threat takes a little more ingenuity and strategy - just the kind of service Caesar expects from Fronto.

Although the attention is very much on the men leading the legions from the front, these are mostly career soldiers respected by their soldiers or young men experiencing their first command and earning their dues. As the soldiers get to know them, so do we. Fronto might be a skilled strategist but he's happiest on the frontline, away from Caesar's staff especially the unpleasant Crassus, and he spends the majority of his time getting into scrapes, getting battered and drinking it off. There's no time for niceties when you're on the march, constantly looking over your shoulder for enemy scouts, risking an arrow in the back. Fronto and his friends are hard drinking (they're regulars in most of the taverns of the empire), gambling, joking, jostling men, who know that each day may be his last and enjoying it all the same.

Caesar isn't quite the hero we're used to. He makes his mistakes and he surrounds himself with both good and bad advisers, largely because he can't take one eye off the senate, and he is prepared to sacrifice thousands of lives - Roman and barbarian - for his ambition and still proclaim it for the glory of Rome. Nevertheless, he is the boss and we see little more of Caesar than Fronto shows us. Likewise, because this is the story of Fronto and the other legates, we see relatively little of the enemy, except as glimpses in the forest or on the other side of the shieldwall

By the end of Marius' Mules there won't be much you won't know about the construction of Roman camps, Roman battle formations and troops, military equipment and uniform, personal possessions, the treatment of the dead and life on the march. I was as fascinated by all of that as I was entertained by the repartee between Fronto and his friends. It all feels very realistic while letting you get close to the men due to their banter and bravery in the field. As a result I felt quite moved in places. This is a self-published book but it deserves to be on the shelves of our bookshops. I'm delighted to say that I have already bought Marius' Mules II: The Belgae and look forward to seeing what Fronto and Caesar get up to against the next bunch of unlucky barbarians.
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on 10 October 2013
I love this genre, and having the HWA around to help me work out who to read next has been great, it lead me to discover SJA Turney on Twitter and in person (an utter gent). I have been meaning to read his books for some time but with so many authors a young child and limited funds I just never had the opportunity. Well I have started now and I have not been disappointed in fact I am thrilled by how good they are as SJA is such a nice bloke that it was a relief to love the book!
I love the military feeling these books have, and whilst the days of turning up to work under the weather from the night before are disappearing they are not in such distant memory! I love the minute by minute approach really letting me get to know the characters and get in the muck with them rather than a sweeping run through the period (not better just different and equally good!) I like that Fronto winds me up and gives me the feeling that he needs a jolly good kick up the rear end and there are characters a plenty to like and dislike... With almost all the books on my shelves you get a bit worried about who the author will kill off before the end of the book (why do they do this to us?) and this one is no different the characters in his mind need to keep their heads down I think!
The story is strong and compelling despite any small amount of historical knowledge giving you a vague idea of where we are heading! There are some books which need my full attention and some that I just enjoy with a glass of wine in a hot bath and this is of the latter category I read it almost in one sitting and then went headlong into book two. I like books that leave a big series open and knowing that I have at least 5 more to read (well 4 as I have just finished book 2 also) makes me a happy bunny! I know SJA is not as well known as some of the others in this genre but take a chance they are great fun!
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on 27 January 2012
Firstly let me say I enjoyed this book and will download the next. The plot is well thought out and the novel drives nicely towards its conclusion.

There are however some areas of writing that desperately needed an editor's skill.
The dialogue is often contrived and probably the weakest area of the book, but this is balanced with fantastic action sequences which are very well written.

At times the characters resort to slapstick comedy, which doesn't quite work especially when it comes from the senior officers within the campaign. I doubt very much if an army commander, let alone Caesar would have put up with even a small measure of the kind of thing that Fronto, the main character gets away with. The end of the campaign's staff meeting where senior and staff officers are drunk, falling asleep, falling over etc not only lack credibility, it detracts from the very good parts of the novel.

The other area of weakness in the novel is during the final battle when after pages and chapters of building to the climax, the author suddenly goes back to his main character and what he has been doing whilst the battle, which he is not directly involved in, has been going on. Taking you back in time and effectively grinding the pace to a halt.
This was not only very poor writing and clumsily handled, but took away from what up until then had been a page turning rollercoaster of a ride. A very basic error from an author who had shown he was more than capable of writing a great action novel.

I did like the explanation of Roman and Latin terms at the beginning of each chapter, which enabled the reader to read the chapter with knowledge and without having to refer to some end of book glossary. This was innovative and worked well.

Overall a very good read which could have been a great read.

In my opinion it deserves 3.5 stars, as that is not possible I have given it 4, but could have/ should have been a 5.
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on 1 June 2011
A good story line, great battle scenes and great characters, but the title I don't like. Marius is long dead, why not a title to do with the characters in the book. I don't Like the the way he portraits the Gauls trying to speak Latin. Why not just say they spoke bad Latin. It's going back to second rate Cowboy films with the Indians speaking English. What ever ones opinion of Caesar you need to stick to the facts. We know he was ambitious, ruthless,and arrogant but we also know he was intelligent, decisive a great tactician, strategist and above all a great leader of men. Only the negative side comes out in the book.
I find this all a little irritating though. That said I enjoyed the book.
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