Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Eagles at War by Ben Kane

My blog's been silent of late but that doesn't mean I've not been writing and doing a lot of reading! 

Domestic duties have recently meant a lot of my time has been taken from reading and writing but, nonetheless, I've slowly made my way through some novels. that means I'm overdue in writing a few reviews so I'm making a start on those today...

Most of the fiction I've come across that's based on Ancient Roman warfare is by male authors. I've read a few in the past but till recently hadn't read anything by Ben Kane, a novelist whose exploits I've been following via one of my 'Roman' Facebook Groups. This is the first I've read but likely won't be the last. Here's what I thought of Eagles at War:

Eagles at War by Ben Kane

Ben Kane’s extensive research of the Roman campaign trail shines through in Eagles At War. I found that there were many aspects of the novel to get engrossed in and a few to ponder over, though these aspects didn’t prevent my enjoyment of the story.  

Before reading this novel I hadn't done any research on what's termed the Teutoburg Massacre of AD 9 when three legions of Rome were massacred by some allied tribes of north-west Germany. It was a turning 

Arminius seemed at first to be the prime protagonist but that proved not to be the outcome. I was expecting some sort of appearance from Arminius after the bloody mayhem was well underway, towards the end of the story, but that didn’t happen. For me, this meant that he wasn’t a completed character. Having faded into the background, behind the German lines as it were, meant there was nothing to show how his success actually affected him beyond the stage of the reader knowing that he’d realised an ambition harboured since childhood. I read of his doubts and fears when he was dealing with the other Germanic tribal leaders and during the first forays of attack between Germanic tribes and Roman troops… but then he was gone. The author initially portrays him as a charismatic character, especially with regard to his friendship with Varus. However, being best buddies and going hunting together didn’t somehow ring true for me, though I could see that the author needed Arminius to have something special that appealed to Varus in a way that was more than the many other officers that Varus would have been in regular contact with. History does, of course, indicate a certain bond that made Varus trust him.
Centurion Tullus is an admirable well drawn character, a man dedicated to his position and to the men under his command. Though a fictitious figure, he embodies what I imagine must have been the best qualities of all centurions of the forces of Ancient Rome. The author’s choice of him as the focus of the story means that the reader is plunged into where the actual action of the battle is – a totally different perspective from how Varus, or even the Senior Tribune Tubero, must have viewed the massacre in real life. The choice of a figure further down the command chain as a prime protagonist allows the author to write about the bloody grittiness and mayhem that befell the common soldier fighting alongside Tullus in his century, like the relatively untried young Piso who learns what war really is about.

The end of the novel seems a bit abrupt after very lengthy battle scenes though the conclusion is inevitable since history states the three legions were subject to the most formidable massacre.

From the Roman perspective it was a huge defeat.

From the point of view of the Germanic tribes it was a tremendous and life changing success. Never again did Rome attempt to extend its Empire into the far north-west of Germany thorough brute force.

This aspect of the story resonates with me since Europe would be a different place if Rome had conquered those tribes and had imposed Roman traditions. Two thousand years of Germanic architecture and traditions would, most likely, not have developed as they have done.   

Though the bloodiest aspects of the book aren't my favourite parts, I accept that learning about the Ancient Roman Empire is impossible without them. If blood, gore and mayhem aren't to your taste this book may not be for you but... if you want to learn more about the Ancient Roman Army on campaign trail then I've no hesitation in recommending it.

I gave this 5 stars on Amazon. *****

I’ll likely be reaching for more of Ben Kane’s work in the future.


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