My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Author Jack Whyte has done an excellent job of portraying the Roman Empire in Britain as the end of Roman domination begins to wane and decay. The narrator, Gaius Publius Varras, writing this in the form of a memoir gives us his inside views of the decadence that ultimately brought about the downfall of the empire, as Romans turned more and more of their own border defenses over to mercenaries and locals who were not as disciplined and motivated to keep out the hoards from beyond the pale.
The story line is interesting, covering the period from around 364 through 385 A.D. and beginning with one of the first strong invasions over Hadrian’s Wall, one which caught the Romans by surprise. Varras, a first ranked Centurion under General Britannicus manages to survive the invasion. The legion fights its way back south to the London area over a period of more than a year. Reaching a fort under Roman control, they are told that they have been condemned in absentia as deserters and traitors for not reporting in. (Where were your cell phones guys?)
The narration of Varras’ adventures following his return to good graces with the Legion and his eventual marriage to General Britannicus’ sister rambles through the villages and countryside of Roman Britain and follows Varras into a new career as a smithy following a near death recuperation from a battle wound. In this capacity, Varrus becomes the renowned smith and begins a quest to find the sky stones from which his grandfather fashioned a sword and a fabulous dagger.
I loved the story and only lowered my rating because I felt that author Whyte has a tendency to become too verbose in his telling of the tales, often to the point that whole paragraphs can be skipped without losing the train of the action and story line. Additionally, I was surprised to find that the story didn’t end where I would have suspected in reading the cover and introduction, at the pulling of Excalibre out of the stone. This doesn’t diminish the ending which is unique in its anticipation of that event and introduces us to The Lady of the Lake.
Enjoy the read, you will learn a lot about Roman Britain and the legions.