No matter how much I enjoy the ‘Empire’ books, I can’t get away from the fact that Anthony Riches’ Editor is still blind. Like the bat. It’s ok, publishing people, I have bought all the books (so far) in the series (twice, actually, as I have them all in hardback and on Audible) and a decent star count still manages to poke its head above the soup of irritants but…if I were his editor, I’d have (at least) pointed out this quick selection inside five pages, early on:
P 41. ’Scaurus raised an eyebrow in recognition of the younger man’s achievement.’
P.43. ’Scaurus raised an eyebrow.’
P45. ‘Marcus raised an eyebrow at Martos, who nodded in agreement.’
Then the unnecessary repetition habit again begins again:
P45. The Roman smiled quietly at the way in which the Selgovae giant had quietly and patiently become…’
You get the picture. In the main body of the book, eyebrows are raised in a startling, not to say stunning, variety of ways to signify a wide range of emotions. Often at times, like in the middle of a frenzied battle, where one might reasonably suspect a shouted indication of surprise, acquiescence or astonishment might have been a more logical, not to say speedily and easily interpreted, means of communicating the afore-mentioned emotion.
So, we have liberally sprinkled eyebrows that are ‘knowing,’ questioning, ‘imperious,’ ’sceptical,’ and/or ‘note’ things just by their raising. There are eyebrowS raised as the unspoken answer to questionS and characters that have one eyebrow raised while walking along, into forts. Then there are amazed, ‘pitying,’ ’sardonic,’ ‘wry’ eyebrows a-plenty.
But let’s go all the way to the end and take a closer look at Chapter 10.
P332. “‘What’s down there?’
Lupus started down into the shaft.”
Why not just leave the second ‘down’ out?
P333. “The other man raised a sceptical eyebrow.”
P.333. “Marcus nodded, conceding the point.
“We are the point of the spear…”
Why not ’the tip,’ for the second ‘point’ for example?
P335. “…jerking his head for Marcus to come forward past him. Pacing silently past his friend…” I give up.
P347. “Marcus lifted a wry eyebrow…” And that in the middle of a battle!
P353. “Scaurus raised an appreciative eyebrow at the woman before him.”
And in quick succession…
P354. “He (Scaurus again) raised a questioning eyebrow at her.”
P357. “With a sudden start she realised that there were men all around them, rising from the cover of the bushes and trees around the mine’s entrance.”
P359. “…holding it up to illuminate the narrow passageway. Two hundred paces up the dimly lit passage…” We’ve already got the idea there isn’t much light, hence the need for torches?
P365. “Scaurus raised an eyebrow.”
P366. “According to the miners the transfer was carried out at night, when most of Gerwulf’s cohort were asleep guarding the miners.” Why not just ’them’ for the second ‘miners’?
P368. “Albinus raised his eyebrows in reproach.”
P370. “…happy to see Appius clinging to the neck of his father’s tunic and working his gums vigorously on a heavy gold pendant that hung around her husband’s neck.”
P370. “She looked at her husband with a gently raised eyebrow.”
P370/1. “While the senator simply berated his son to take revenge, the Tribune’s ghost was at the same time both silent and yet gorily persistent in his demands, simply scrawling…”
My favourite of them all in this book and unfortunately I didn’t make a note of the page number, is this beauty:
“With a crack of breaking bone and he flopped bonelessly to the ground.” Surely, the noise of a breaking bone would immediately suggest he isn’t boneless?
The fact that there are enough of them to be noticeable, is irritating in that it distracts from the/my enjoyment of the book/story. Which is otherwise pretty reasonable. They’re still on mainland Europe and have to go sort out a Roman gold mine, discovering fraud on a monumental scale is being perpetrated by errant Roman soldiers. The actual bones of the story are really rather good, with some different variations on the last-minute rescues and unexpected turns of events we’ve come to expect from Mr Riches and his main character Marcus Aquila. I will have to dare to say again, that it is actually the more secondary characters, the supporting cast again, who make the difference. Sometimes, one might be forgiven for finding them a little more interesting, even appealing, in their nature, than the oftentimes straight down the line Marcus.
But (and ‘everything before the but, is bullshit,’ remember that) it’s not ‘just me’ who notices the eyebrows and the repetitions and eyebrows. Other readers have eyes, same as I do (I haven’t even got 20/20 vision, for chuff’s sake). OK, I was involved in what one could call – at a stretch – the ‘creative arts’ (advertising), down the 25 years or more (before moving to Denmark) I worked in the UK. Part of my job(s) down those very same years, was to spot exactly this sort of thing. So, maybe they do leap out a little more readily from the page than for a regular reader, I don’t know. But, you’ve got eyes, same as me, no matter what job you do or don’t do. Like it or not, I have noticed them – and you have too. I can’t un-notice. I can’t say if other reviewers have pointed it out, I haven’t read any, but what I do know is, is that if they haven’t pointed it out, they’re not doing their job (I can immediately think of one blogger (the one who seems never to have read a bad book) who certainly won’t have mentioned it for fear of not getting sent more publisher freebies). As I buy and pay for my books with my own (hard-earned) money, I can be both immune and more objective.
In the end, is it worth buying? Maybe. If you’ve read the others before it, yes. If you are looking forward to the troop returning to Britannia *raises hand* maybe. If you are becoming allergic to eyebrows shooting hither and thither more often than a James Bond film staring Roger Moore…maybe avoid.