Sunday, 2 July 2017

Extra reading time?

Happy Sunday wishes to you!

Reading time is such a precious commodity for me that when more of it is thrust upon me it's a double edged luxury.

As I write this at 11.15 a.m. Sunday 2nd of July I can reflect on this time last week when there was no time for meaningful reading. I was signing/selling my novels at the FOCUS Fair at Ballater on Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire. The footfall was steady throughout the session and I both sold books and had interesting conversations about Ancient Roman activity in Scotland and about the locations I've used in my contemporary mysteries. I'm delighted to say there was no time for me to whittle down my kindle queue!

Extra reading was to follow soon enough, though in circumstances I'd rather not have had. Due to a family member having a spectacular fall down the stairs that evening, I spent the next days visiting the hospital sick-bed. Being at rest for hours during the day isn't usual for me and to have more time for my own reading was a bit odd. Even when the initial worry about the consequences of the fall lessened, I found it quite hard to concentrate on my novel.

What would you do if you found that there was time to read but you couldn't do it justice? My approach was to read the newspapers more slowly than normal and to re-read some of the text books I have on Roman Scotland which I didn't quite 'absorb' first time around. So, time was not wasted.

I did, however, manage to read one of my novels that was pure escapism and here are my thoughts on it. This novel came to my attention when I browsed on Amazon for novels set in Roman Scotland. I knew nothing about the author but I'm very glad to have found him because this was a very well written and well edited story.

North of Bodotria by Jonathan Fear

This was an excellently written, well edited and engrossing story. History, and especially pre-history, as the author says is a matter of interpretation and conjecture and when there are few facts to go on, the imagination can come into play. The main character’s meteoric career rise in the Ancient Roman Army might seem too amazing to be true but when the posting was to the unknown edges of the Roman frontier I’m sure surprising things did happen. an awful lot happens to Quintus Vederius Ligustus in one year but that's what makes the novel a compelling read.

I'm not so sure that promotions (as happened to Vederius for his 'bravery') would have happened if the raw recruit was sent to a location that was well within the Roman Empire and considered to be a settled area but that opinion is also a matter for debate.

Embellishing an event is a regular occurrence in today’s world and I also think that whatever happened in the northern Britannia of A.D. 84 was subject to exaggeration. The Roman recruit was trained to act as part of a team, so for one man to prove a competent 'killer' on his own, I think, would have been noteworthy. Whether such a man was lauded for sheer brutality, foolhardiness, loyalty to the Empire, or otherwise would probably have depended on how the man acted outwith the deadly situation.

I liked how the author treated the aspect of Vederius being thrust into the super trained scouts detachment. Working as a lone spy/ soldier would, I think, have meant earning your reputation was much harder to achieve. I was quite intrigued to read on and find that the protagonist was sent back to a legionary base- a nice twist in the story for me.

I don’t find it hard to believe that a skirmish with a few hundred natives against a small force of Roman Auxiliaries became a much more glorified battle involving thousands by the time the record of the event reached the Emperor and the Senate in Rome. I also think that any major losses on the Roman side would have been glorified in skirmishes which resulted in many more natives being killed at the incident. Roman losses were to be avoided by the Legate and manipulation of numbers was probably an ongoing process across the Empire. 1 Roman dead for 10 Caledonians might be acceptable but 1 Roman for 100 Caledonians would be a bit too much for me.

If there was a battle of Mons Graupius, my own favoured location is much further north than just North of Bodotria (i.e. the River Forth) but my views on that did not detract in any way from my enjoyment of the story of Quintus Vederius Ligustus.

I particularly liked the resources 'reason' given for General Agricola spending time in northern Britannia which is worth a little research!

I had no hesitation in giving this my 5 * approval and recommend it to anyone who enjoys Roman Army stories.


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