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Great concept, a great setting and a great set of characters - BUT...
on 28 October 2011
What a great concept, a great setting and a great set of characters! Unfortunately Fortress of Spears suffers from the same deep flaws as Anthony Rich's previous two books. There is no depth and no discernable plot. Whereas a good compelling story has plots driven by the actions and decisions of its protagonists, Rich's books are Roman units marching around a landscape reacting to tribal attacks. The heroes 'do their bit' but make few meaningful decisions. None of them grow, learn, change, regret or make mistakes. They are your classic 'goody-goody' heroes, always stronger, tougher, more determined and more skilled than the enemy, they are all unswervingly loyal, always resourceful and never give up. The bad guys are unashamedly bad, without redeeming features, always ruthless, untrustworthy and 'evil'. This makes Rich's stories pretty simple, easy to predict and cartoonish.
His battle scenes are gruesome, believable and bloody, but our hero Marcus, never loses. After his first couple of fights you can, like I did, skip them all, because he is the ultimate 'badd-ass' warrior, totally unbeatable, which robs his fights of any tension whatsoever, I skipped on to more interesting stuff, right after he drops the poor 'extra' he is fighting with.
Fortress of Spears resembles his other books in several ways, in particular, I never felt as if I was there. I couldn't `see' the landscape, the forts or other locations, there are scant descriptions of the locations. Much of the book is a blur of tough soldier talk and extended fight scenes. His lack of description (Riches is in dire need of a stock of adjectives to use) extends to his characters. There are dozens of xsoldiers, legionaries, auxiliaries, tribunes, praetorians, prefects and legates involved, but almost no description. Not only does this rob me of my ability to imagine the scene, but it means keeping track of which centurion is talking to which centurion about which soldier can get tricky. Now and then you get an adjective chucked in about a legate's white hair, but nothing else. Since Riches makes everyone speak in the same military style, without their personalities being indicated through their speech patterns, the problem is compounded.
I bought all three books, and wanted to like them so much, I love this period and this place, but as fiction it is pretty dire.
In his introduction to this book, just like his introduction to his second, I was dismayed to read Riches admitting that he hadn't a clue what the book was going to be about until he started writing. How can he get a 3 book deal about a single character to a publisher when he only had the plot to book 1 with no idea what was going to be in the next two installments.
Maybe it just wasn't for me. Scarrow he certainly isn't, though I can detect the imitation in Riches books. But Scarrow had his characters `doing things'.