TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 May 2014
As a fan of historical fiction I'd be a bit remiss if I had not heard of or read Harry Sidebottom, I have to admit to being a bit of a fan of his writing (Warrior of Rome series). When I read the first book Fire in the East I did so with no preconceptions, I read a review copy before most readers of the genre so could do so without any opinions colouring my view. My immediate view at the time was that here was someone a bit different, the writing style skewed more to the educational than the entertainment side of a read, but it has plenty of both. Since that date I have read many opinions of other readers about the writing being "a lecture", "a bit too Dry" etc.. and each person should be able to form their own view. Mine was always that Ballista was a highly complex and entertaining character, and the books taxed my knowledge of the Roman world, they taught me something. It meant I had to make sure I read them at the right time, to ensure my mood suited that read. Doing it this way led me to give each and every book between 4 and 5 stars, and to read knowing that Harry had done the research, that what I was reading was educational as well as blooming good fun.
Iron and Rust is a departure from Ballista, and a bit to my surprise a departure in style. If this had been my first experience of Harry I might have been a bit more concerned, I might be leaning a bit more towards those people who use the term "Lecture". The book is highly informative, packed with detail of the Roman world of AD235, it brings to life (piece by piece) many of the major players in the Roman hierarchy of the time. It's when you persevere with the detail that Iron and Rust starts to pay dividends, the complexity and the detail resolves itself into a detailed plot with many players and many shifting alliances, like a complex multi-layered game of chess. Nasty back stabbing politics, rumour and denouncements and the old evil of greed and gold.
As the book progressed and I adapted to this style I found myself enjoying the story more, and the characters depths and idiosyncrasies became more and more apparent, I found myself finally sinking into the roman world rather than being swept along by the events of history. Ultimately this book and many more this year will suffer in comparison to Giles Kristian and God of Vengeance, which is my 2014 bench mark, and has reset my use of 5 star read. That said this is still an entertaining read, and highly educational, what I think made me struggle is the lack of a central character, a hero... and as soon as that thought popped into my head...so did bonnie tyler...(sorry Harry)
I need a hero
I'm holding on for a hero `til the end of the night
He's gotta be strong
And he's gotta be fast
And he's gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I'm holding on for a hero `til the morning light
He's gotta be sure
And it's gotta be soon
And he's gotta be larger than life (larger than life)
Deep down I'm a simple man, I need my battles, I need the fighting, the blood and a little gore, I need the anticipation of battle more than I need politics, I need that larger than life character who will carry me through the world of the book and the events swirling around him/her. But that said this is a book you should read, If I apply the Amazon review model:
1 Star: I hate it
2 Stars: I don't like it
3 Stars: Its okay
4 Stars: I like it
5 Stars: I love it.
By the end of the book I was firmly in the 4 stars, Harry as ever had won me around, mainly with Maximinus, the Roman Emperor, with his blunt heroic hard charging ways, I just wish he had been a bigger player in the book, or we could have seen the story through the eyes of a consistent character. Harry remains on my must read list and I am looking forward to his next book, I feel the next one will start stronger and faster, first books in a series have to set the scene and the character base, that's now been done... bring on the battles Harry, but also keep your amazing eye for detail, intrigue and authenticity.