What can I say? Nick Brown set himself a very high standard with his first novel, which was outstanding for a debut. And despite that, he managed to top it with book 2 and again with book 3. Book 4, then. Sometimes I am, at this point in a series, a little worried that the fire and ingenuity will have gone from the writing. I have to say that I did not worry about that with Nick. His writing is always top-notch, his plots seamless and his narrative excellent. I had no doubt that this would match up to his high standard, and it did.
In the first book, we say Cassius Corbulo thrown into the action defending a siege against incredible odds. In the second, he was set to hunting down a stolen banner than could avert or start a war. In book 3 he began a manhunt, following a murder investigation. Book 4 should realistically feel familiar, being another plot concerning the tracking down and recovery of a stolen item. Worry not. It is a fresh and thrilling investigation and in no way similar to, or derivative of, book 1.
I will only deal briefly with plot in case of spoilers. This story involves a perilous journey through the desert lands of modern Syria and Jordan in an attempt to recover the infamous Black Stone of Emesa, a sacred object that the deranged emperor Elagabalus had utilised in his weirdness decades earlier. His journey will bring him – undercover, of course, and with a sneaky column of local auxiliaries – into direct conflict with a madman rising like scum to the top of the southern Saracen tribes and inciting hatred against Rome and its taxes. Set to recovering the stone by his Service seniors and to uncovering the true nature of the tribes’ defiance by the province’s governor, Corbulo is going to find himself torn in numerous directions and trying to stay alive and keep his command intact while achieving several conflicting missions.
Enough. If I’ve not convinced you to buy it, I will now. Go buy it or I’ll send you an angry bear in the post!
Seriously, there are two things that deserve to be said about The Black stone.
1. I noticed in this, more than any of the other three, a true case of well-written and plotted and thoroughly realistic character progression. Corbulo, Simo and Indevara are so well portrayed here that they feel like close friends, and the changes the dreadful circumstances into which they are thrown wreak upon both them and their relationships are beautifully written. And watch out too for a couple of really stupendous new characters, including a bad guy that goes solidly into the ‘I wish I’d invented him’ folder.
2. The ease of the book. Some books are wonderful, but hard work, and you have to make yourself concentrate on. Others are easy reads, because they are rather basic. Very few are easy reads, that pull you headlong through the book, but are also wonderful pieces of literature. This is one. Go get this series and read them through. You will not be disappointed.
… and I have the angry bears on order. You have been warned.
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