Book Corner: Sons of Rome by Simon Turney and Gordon Doherty

As twilight descends on the 3rd century AD, the Roman Empire is but a shadow of its former self. Decades of usurping emperors, splinter kingdoms and savage wars have left the people beleaguered, the armies weary and the future uncertain. And into this chaos Emperor Diocletian steps, reforming the succession to allow for not one emperor to rule the world, but four.

Meanwhile, two boys share a chance meeting in the great city of Treverorum as Diocletian’s dream is announced to the imperial court. Throughout the years that follow, they share heartbreak and glory as that dream sours and the empire endures an era of tyranny and dread. Their lives are inextricably linked, their destinies ever-converging as they rise through Rome’s savage stations, to the zenith of empire. For Constantine and Maxentius, the purple robes beckon…

Ever wondered what happens when two of your favourite authors get together and write a book?

Well, when its Simon Turney and Gordon Doherty, the result is a real page turner of an adventure that is impossible to put down!

Sons of Rome is the first in a new series by these two stalwarts in the field of Roman fiction. I only finished it yesterday and I am already desperate to read part two. The book fulfills the promise offered by combining two incredible authors. It is beautifully written, fast-paced and completely addictive.

Telling the story in alternating chapters, from the viewpoints of Constantine and Maxentius, it highlights the power struggles of the latter part of the Roman Empire. The Empire has got so big that a tetrarchy of two emperors and two caesars shared control of the eastern and western empires, with one emperor claiming seniority – Augustus – over the three other rulers.

Constantine and Maxentius – friends since childhood – are set to challenge the existing order of the tetrarchy, testing their friendship to its limits and beyond. Distrust and misunderstandings abound when destiny and the quest for ultimate power forces the two into opposition to each other.

Maxentius

By the Milvian Bridge across the Tiber, the next day

off to the left a centurion screamed imprecations at his men, driving them on across the churned turf and into the press of battle, while the clash and clamour of Rome’s armies at war filled the air around us.

I had to pause to adjust my rich wool hat, for it had become so sweat-sodden that it constantly threatened to slip down across my eyes, and it doesn’t do for an emperor to be cursing and blind as he fights for his throne. IN the searing heat of the sun’s glaring fiery orb, my horse stank of sweat and my purple cloak clung damp to my back, sticking to the beast’s rump behind me.

My sword had become heavy in my hand. I’d had only a brief chance to use it that morning, when I had managed to slip my overprotective bodyguard and join the cavalry in a brief push. But I had waved it around enthusiastically from time to time, giving orders to charge here and hold there. I knew my histories. Julius Caesar’s men would have followed him into the jaws of Cerberus himself just because of that great general’s presence on the field.

And I, Maxentius, emperor of Rome, had to be a new Julius Caesar this day, or I would be no one.

Briefly, across the sea of glinting helms and the forest of spear points, I caught sight of him. My enemy. The man who would wrest Rome from me. Constantine. My brother, my oldest friend, and yet my last and most bitter adversary. Like a hero of ancient myth, he rose in his saddle, sword rising and falling in a constant spray of blood.

The two leading characters, Constantine and Maxentius, are skillfully recreated by Turney and Doherty, each with their own personality and quirks; and each with their own pain and ambition. Constantine is the more martial of the two – you get the impression that he could march across the whole empire and subdue any who stand in his way. Whereas Maxentius has a first-rate political mind; what he lacks in military experience, he makes up for in his own battle arena, the corridors of power.

The contrasting qualities and abilities displayed by Constantine and Maxentius serve to create a unique story that has the reader gripped from the very first pages. You can’t help but have a favourite when you read of Constantine’s exploits and how he won the loyalty of the legions once sworn to his father. And then, of course, he was proclaimed emperor in York and I’m a Yorkshire lass…. But you may feel your allegiance changing when reading of Maxentius’ own abilities in winning favour with the people of the city of Rome itself, with the way he wins the loyalty of the African legions.

This is a totally absorbing book which combines action, political intrigue and divided loyalties to recreate a story that is fascinating to read and unputdownable – there’s that word again, it needs to be a real word. Honest!

Oh, and you get to spend the whole book, trying to work out which author is Constantine and which is Maxentius. Or, indeed, wondering if they even wrote it that way. The transition from one author to the other is seamless; the styles of each certainly complement the other. The benefit of two authors is obvious; each of the two leading characters – Maxentius and Constantine – narrating the story have clearly defined, individual voices. It gives Sons of Rome a strength and individuality that you rarely come across in a book.

I can heartily recommend it!

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About the authors

Simon Turney

Simon Turney is the author of the Marius’ Mules and Praetorian series, as well as The Damned Emperor series for Orion and Tales of the Empire series for Canelo. He is based in Yorkshire.

Gordon Doherty is the author of the Legionary and Strategos series, and wrote the Assassin’s Creed tie-in novel Odyssey. He is based in Scotland.

Pre-order links
Gordon Doherty

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3gfhvIr

Follow Simon

Twitter: @SJATurney

Website: http://simonturney.com/

Follow Gordon

Twitter: @GordonDoherty

Website: https://www.gordondoherty.co.uk/

Follow Aries

Twitter: @AriesFiction

Facebook: Aries Fiction

Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

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My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Legionary: The Blood Road by Gordon Doherty

381 AD: The Gothic War draws to a brutal climax, and the victor’s name will be written in blood…

The great struggle between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Gothic Horde rumbles into its fifth year. It seems that there can be no end to the conflict, for although the Goths are masters of the land, they cannot topple the last of the imperial cities. But heralds bring news that might change it all: Emperor Gratian readies to lead his Western legions into the fray, to turn matters on their head, to crush the horde and save the East!

The men of the XI Claudia legion long for their homeland’s salvation, but Tribunus Pavo knows these hopes drip with danger. For he and his soldiers are Gratian’s quarry as much as any Goth. The road ahead will be fraught with broken oaths, enemy blades… and tides of blood.

Gordon Doherty‘s Legionary: The Blood Road is the 7th book in his acclaimed Legionary series and is a masterpiece of Roman fiction. I don’t often read Roman historical fiction, but whenever I do stray from medieval history into the realms of the legions, I find myself asking ‘why don’t I do this more often?’ Legionary: The Blood Road again made me realise how much I love a good book about Rome!.

Legionary: The Blood Road  is a fast-paced, enjoyable novel of the Roman legions which grips you from the very first page. The action and intrigue never lets up, from the opening lines to the last, taking the reader on a journey through the Eastern Empire of Theodosius and its struggles against the Goths. The battles are so vividly portrayed, they feel real; the tactics of the Roman legions and of the Gothic horde, have obviously been extensively researched. The author transports you back to the events and leaves you feeling that you were a spectator to the actual battles. The suspense is tangible, the end of the book cleverly disguised so that, to the very last pages, you are fearful that the hero may not prevail.

‘For the Claudia,’ panted one voice, thick with emotion.

He turned to the rise, seeing the men of the First Century slacken in relief. Seven legionaries lay still on reddened earth; another dozen groaned and clutched wounds. Pavo betrayed not a chink of emotion, the ‘soldier’s skin’ like a layer of old boot leather around his heart. He quietly stooped to pack a little frost around the stinging gash on the back of his hand. Primus Pilus Sura, his most trusted man in the legions and out, wrenched his spear clear of the shoulder of another Hun corpse, his blonde hair shuddering and his boyish features ruined by a snarl. ‘We weren’t sent here to fight Huns,’ he seethed at the toppling body.

‘Thank Mithras we were here though,’ said Pavo, peeling his helm from his head and scruffing a hand through his short, dark hair. He offered a nod to the onager crew – fifty strides back – who had measured the range and unleashed the rock that had destroyed the ice-bridge. ‘Imagine we were not. These bastards would have poured across, then sent back word to others. The nightmare on the far banks would have spilled over here in its entirety.’

‘Still a bit of a nightmare on this side too, Tribunus,’ said Centurion Libo, throwing his helmet to the ground and scratching behind his ear like a dog, flakes of dry skin spraying from his wild matter hair. His painted, wooden eye remained fixed and staring while the good eye swivelled to look south, he like the many others thinking of the turmoil still ongoing many miles away.

 

And what a hero! Pavo is a fabulous character, who is vividly portrayed. It’s almost like you know him personally. Human, flawed, ruthless; but a beloved leader whose men will follow him, no matter what. He has earned their loyalty by giving them his loyalty and it is this mutual strength and trust which provides the backbone to the story. You find yourself rooting for him through is many trials and tribulations, while at the same time wondering how anyone could get  out of the predicaments in which he finds himself!

Pavo, however, has made some powerful enemies, and it is his relationship with these enemies – the Emperor Gratian, no less – that leads Pavo into the greatest danger. Gratian doesn’t want Pavo dead – he wants him to suffer. Pavo has to balance his need to stay away from Gratian – and his personal band of assassins – against his duties to protect and defend the empire against the invading horde and an ever-elusive dream of peace. The suspense is almost too much to take and will keep you reading long into the dark hours of the night.

In Legionary: The Blood Road Gordon Doherty expertly transports you back to the great days of the Roman Empire, using his extensive knowledge of the era and incredible story-telling skills to give the reader the impression of being there, in the midst of battle and court politics. The sights, sounds and smells of the eastern empire can be vividly imagined as you get absorbed into the story and atmosphere of Imperial Rome.

I have read a couple of the earlier Legionary books, but have missed a few. However, with Legionary: The Blood Road you could easily read this book if it was your first introduction to author Gordon Doherty. This is a self-contained novel that introduces past events when they need explanation, but tells a complete story in the author’s own, inimitable style.

Gordon Doherty is one of the must-read authors of Roman history, a wonderful story-teller who vividly recreates the era, through the landscape, people and the politics. The battles and intrigues are masterfully recreated to entertain and engage the reader; I cannot recommend it highly enough. Legionary: The Blood Road is a fabulous read!

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You can find out about the rest of the series here (linked pics below)

To buy Legionary: The Blood Road.

About the author: 

Gordon Doherty is a Scottish writer, addicted to reading and writing historical fiction.

His love of history was first kindled by the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall, and travelling around the ancient world has kept the fire burning brightly ever since. The later Roman Empire and Byzantium hold a particular fascination for him. There is something quite special about the metamorphosis from late antiquity into the ‘dark ages’ and the medieval period.

While historical fiction is his passion, he alsoenjoy writing comedy and sci-fi too. Perhaps one day he’ll find a way to combine all three!

Gordon Doherty on social media: websiteFacebook; Twitter.

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Aethelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: A Gap in History by Gordon Doherty

Today it is with great pleasure that I welcome novelist Gordon Doherty to the blog. Gordon’s latest instalment in his Legionary series, Legionary: The Blood Road, has just been released and is a cracking read (look out for my review later this week). Gordon joins us to talk about the background behind this magnificent Legionary series, set in ancient Rome.

So, without further ado, it is over to Gordon….

A Gap in History

A gap in history – an impossible void?

Writing historical fiction is, for me, like climbing into a time machine and going there, being in the moment. In penning the Legionary series, I feel like I have marched with the legions of the Roman Empire, across the green hills of Thracia, through the sweltering Persian desert, and over the snowy Balkan Mountains. I have fought in countless battles, sliced across the turquoise waters of the Aegean in an imperial galley, climbed the Great Aqueduct in Constantinople with cutthroats in close pursuit. It’s the ultimate escapism. This time machine of mine needs just a little fuel – a solid account of the history to spark the imagination, factual bones to which I can add the fictional flesh. But what if there is no fuel? When a gap appears in the history? Well here’s my experience…

The Gothic War: so turbulent it blew a hole in history!

The 4th century AD Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus serves as, as Edward Gibbon said, “an accurate and faithful guide” thanks to his famous work Res Gestae (literally ‘things done’), in which he charts the events of the empire from the accession of Emperor Nerva in 96 AD all the way through to 378 AD. It was the tail end of this chronicle – the Gothic War – that really intrigued me, and Res Getae served as a perfect historical spine for the Legionary series and a constant supply of fuel for the time machine.

The Roman Empire during the Gothic War.

The late 4th Century AD was a tumultuous time for the Roman Empire. The ground shook and a distant thunder sounded as a new threat poured across the eastern horizon. The Huns swept towards Europe from the Eurasian steppe in an event we call the Great Migration. These skilled and fearsome horsemen trampled over every tribe they found – none of whom had an answer to the Hunnic mode of fighting – roving in packs, whirling lassos and loosing clouds of arrows on their stunned quarry. Tribe after tribe fell – butchered or subjugated. Next in the Huns’ line of sight were the Goths, a Germanic people who inhabited the land north of the River Danube (roughly modern Romania).

The war-torn Diocese of Thracia.

The Goths were hardy and fierce warriors, but even with the many warriors they could muster, they too simply could not resist the Huns. So they turned and fled south, and in 376 AD they begged to be allowed to cross the Danube and take sanctuary in the Eastern Roman Empire (the empire had existed in two halves for some time by this point). Eastern Emperor Valens permitted their entry, hoping the alliance could be mutually beneficial – the Goths gaining a safer new home and the empire acquiring many thousands of new recruits for the legions. The Romans settled the Goths in a temporary camp somewhere in northern Thracia (modern Bulgaria)… then proceeded to make an absolute mess of matters. The odious Count Lupicinus oversaw severe maltreatment of the refugee population. His soldiers offered the starving Goths only rotting dog meat in exchange for their children to sell as slaves. Inevitably, the refugees broke out in revolt, and the Gothic War began. All Thracia became a war zone, and even the mighty city of Constantinople – the Eastern capital – came under threat.

The last stand at the Battle of Adrianople – one of the Roman Empire’s darkest days.

Ammianus Marcellinus described the bitter struggle wonderfully (see my timeline here), right up to and including the day that would go down in history as one of the empire’s darkest: when the forces of Emperor Valens lined up to face the Gothic horde a short way north of the city of Adrianople on a sweltering August afternoon with the best regiments the empire had – the crack cavalry and palace legions. That day, in the baking heat, they were routed by the Goths. Two-thirds of the eastern legions were slaughtered. Valens was killed amongst his men, and the Eastern Empire was left staring into oblivion as the Goths roared in triumph, masters of Thracia.

“What happened next?” I hear you cry. Well, Ammianus signs off with the infuriatingly calm and valedictory line:

Zosimus’ Historia Nova – a muddled but still useful account.

Thus have I, a Greek by birth, and formerly a soldier, related all the events from the accession of Nerva to the death of Valens, to the best of my abilities; professing above all things to tell the truth, which, as I believe, I have never knowingly perverted, either by silence or by falsehood. Let better men in the flower of their age, and of eminent accomplishments, relate the subsequent events.

 

His parting call for a successor to take up the mantle was never adequately answered. The years after 378 AD are something of a historical void. Not surprising, given that the people of the Roman Empire had at that time more pressing matters to attend to than recording events.

 

Like the empire itself, I too found myself staring into oblivion. Legionary: Gods & Emperors ended after the Battle of Adrianople, but the story of Pavo and the XI Claudia legion was far from over. Yet how could I write about the aftermath of the Battle of Adrianople when my faithful guide had no more to say?

Another guide, perhaps? Well, there was Zosimus, the 6th century AD writer who composed the Historia Nova (the ‘New History’), a work charting affairs after 378 AD and all the way up to 410. Perfect! Well, not quite. Zosimus relied heavily on secondary research, basing his history directly on the earlier histories of Dexippus, Eunapius and Olympiodorus. This, presumably, is why the Historia Nova is riddled with contradictions and inaccuracies. In some places where he has leveraged Eunapius, he speaks negatively about the Roman-Vandal general Stilicho, and later when he has clearly used Olympiodorus, he speaks glowingly of the same man. Likewise, he describes the post-Adrianople movements of the Goths in a way that demonstrate that he clearly didn’t understand the lay of the land at the time – more than once telling how, after raiding imperial territory, they went back across the Danube  (the Goths were firmly planted in fallen Thracia by this point – they never again returned to their old, Hun-ridden home north of the river). Still, Zosimus’ account was by no means a dead loss. Even his muddled version of events served as a starting point, and I attempted to detangle the descriptions and put a plausible timeline to it all.

Legionary: The Blood Road

To add a little more structure to this still-nebulous picture, I charted the attestations of the whereabouts of the Eastern and Western Emperors. Accounts of Theodosius I (Valens’ eastern successor) indicate that he made the city of Thessalonica his base of operations as he set about rejuvenating the Eastern Army. From there he roved north to tackle the Gothic horde… only to suffer defeat somewhere near Scupi in modern Macedonia. After that, it seems he remained in Constantinople for many years. Likewise, it seems Gratian, Emperor of the West, travelled to the war-torn eastern lands at least once per year during the period 378-382 AD. This ties in with the efforts of his Western Army to strike back the Gothic horde, so I could confidently assume that he was directly involved in this initiative.

Then I came to the bombastic orations of Themistius, the rhetorician and philosopher who served as a spokesperson and something of a spin doctor for Emperor Valens’ successor, Theodosius I. Now even the most prosaic of histories are subjective to a degree, but Themistius’ speeches are anything but prosaic and certainly not objective, in they are almost burlesque in their predispositions. Crucially, however, the orations he delivered in the years between 378 AD and 382 AD serve as key indicators of how the Gothic War developed after the disaster at Adrianople, and make it clear that there was a drastic shift in imperial stance. In 379 AD, not long after Theodosius’ coronation, Themistius booms:

The Goths will quake. Our mighty soldier-emperor will draw every able man together, our miners will bring iron for them and we will slaughter the barbarian!

Fighting talk! So although the Eastern Empire was grievously wounded, it is clear they did not intend to lie down and die. Yet just a few years later, Themistius proclaimed, with respect to the Gothic War:

It is an emperor’s job to govern, not to fight. And he has such a love of mankind…

This was clearly a case of managing expectations and an indicator that the aggressive earlier announcement had not played out as predicted. Sure enough, peace was agreed with the Goths the very next year, in 382 AD. The Gothic War ended not with bloody victory and vengeance, but after a series of brutal and inconclusive battles, leaving two exhausted sides realising neither could win.

So it was from this jigsaw of patchy chronicles, minor mentions of the emperors’ movements and blustery monologues from the era’s most famous orator, that I managed to piece together a picture of the post-Adrianople Roman Empire. There are places where I had to speculate and employ the imagination at full thrust – and I can’t describe how much fun that was. Most importantly, the ‘time machine’ was up and running again, and Legionary: The Blood Road was born!

You can find out about the rest of the series here (linked pics below)

Read my review of Legionary: The Blood Road . To buy Legionary: The Blood Road just click on the link.

From the author: 

I’m a Scottish writer, addicted to reading and writing historical fiction.

Gordon Doherty

My love of history was first kindled by the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall, and travelling around the ancient world has kept the fire burning brightly ever since. The later Roman Empire and Byzantium hold a particular fascination for me. There is something quite special about the metamorphosis from late antiquity into the ‘dark ages’ and the medieval period.

While historical fiction is my passion, I enjoy writing comedy and sci-fi too. Perhaps one day I’ll find a way to combine all three!

Gordon’s website: www.gordondoherty.co.uk

Gordon on Twitter: @GordonDoherty

Gordon on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/GordonDohertyAuthor

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.


From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Aethelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly