Friday, December 3, 2010

Book Review: Under the Eagle by Simon Scarrow

I love almost anything historical, but particularly when it has to do with Rome or Greece. I don't know why, but I've always been that way. So, upon finding a ten book series about the Roman Legions, you can imagine how excited I was. I mean, I always hope that when I find a series like this that it will be fantastic and I will have a new author to follow. Bernard Cornwell was one of those for me. I got into his Lords of the North series about the Vikings and from there I've gone to his Civil War series, The Starbuck Chronicles, and to his much more famous, Sharpe books about the Napoleonic wars. But here was a series about Roman Legions. I thought that I'd died and gone to heaven.
I wish I had.
The book started well enough, with a legion running for their lives from a group of savage Celts. The rearguard is dragging a very heavy wagon that is carrying something very valuable through the muddy swamp paths when the Celts break through. The centurion orders the wagon to be sunk into the bog, and marks the location. He then runs for the ships where his Legate, the commander of the legion, is holding the boat for him and his men. The Celts catch them, however, and only the centurion makes it back. He hands the wax tablet marking the location to his commander, and the commander vows to come back and get it, and to subdue the Britons in turn. The commander's name? Gaius Julius Caesar.
Sounds pretty good, right? At least that's what I thought. But as I read on I grew more and more disillusioned. The book cuts to two characters, Cato and Macro, and the Second Legion. Seriously, every character in this book from here on out is a trope and has been done to death. Macro is a hard-nosed centurion, capable of almost anything, except reading or writing. Cato is a palace slave given his freedom on condition he sign it away to a lifetime of service in the legions. He trains under the  traditional drill sergeant character, aptly named Bestia. He of course, decides to single out the soft palace slave for humiliation. Inevitably, Cato rises to every challenge and becomes a hero.
Perhaps the worst thing this book had to offer is the way it just jumps like a CD that skips. One moment, their in a forest village, about to be consumed by a horde of German warriors, that is if the fire that has caught the entire village on fire doesn't get them first. Then, poof! The next paragraph starts with something like: And they all got out because the Legion won the battle and now it's six weeks later and we're all healed up and ready for something else, oh, and by the way, the main character did something heroic, and now we get to see him get the award for it.... Ok, maybe it wasn't quite that bad, but you get the idea. It does this several times and annoyed me to no end.
I will say this. Parts of this book were interesting. I will probably give him another shot, given that this was his first book. But unless he really manages to pick it up in the next book(and I hope so, sheesh, it's a ten book series. They can't all be like this, right?) I'll have to stick to Bernard Cornwell, who, while not having written anything Roman, at least has never let me down, either.

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