Review: Scourge of Rome by Douglas Jackson

Scourge of Rome

5 of 5 stars

Gaius Valerius Verrens 6

My version:
Hardback
Historical Fiction Roman Empire
Transworld
2015
Bought

AD 70. Gaius Valerius Verners has been disgraced, dishonoured and banished. To return to Rome would be to face certain death.

Such a punishment would break a lesser man, but Valerius knows his only hope of survival – and the restoration of his family’s fortunes – lies with his friend Titus, son of the newly-crowned Emperor Vespasian, and now commander of the Army of Judea. And so, the former military Tribune journeys east and into the heart of a brutal and savage rebellion.

Reaching the Roman legions arrayed around the walls of the city of Jerusalem, Valerius finds Titus a changed man. Gone os the cheerful young officer; in his place is a ruthless soldier under pressure from an impatient emperor to terminate the Judean uprising at any cost. Soon Valerius finds himself drawn into a web of intrigue spun by Titus’ lover, Queen Berenice of Cilicia, and his venal advisor, Flavius Josephus – unlikely allies who have an anterior motive for ending the siege quickly…

But clandestine negotiations in the murky tunes beneath Jerusalem are not going to win Valerius back his freedom. Only amid the heat and blood of battle can he rediscover the glory that brought him the title ‘Hero of Rome.’

I’m fair rattling through this series right now. And why not? They’ve got to be in a photo-finish for the best-written historical fiction of any period. Scourge of Rome is no different, being full of interesting incident, excitement and plenty beside to keep you gripping the book until you throw it off a cliff at the end…

Where book 5, Enemy of Rome, was I felt Serpentius’ book, this one is most definitely Valerius.’ Mainly because of all the leg-over action he gets. Err…anyway, it is he that, from beginning the series as a Hero of Rome, could well be being described as ‘Cast Out by Rome’ at the beginning of this book. He has to trek across the Eastern deserts, trying to find a way back into Rome. I’ve thought about the differences between Valerius’ idea of what Rome should be, coming off worse in the collision with what Rome actually turns out to be, before. Here, I wondered if absence of from Rome would cause that to fade and ‘Rome’ the idea still be the shining ideal. It possibly is still that way to Valerius, as we know he’s far from being stupid, so why would he strive so hard for and to get back to Rome, if he didn’t think it was worth fighting for? Serpentius still plays an important part in the book, but more subdued (you’ll see why), and not always involving the popping up at the last minute to deflect a killing stroke from some unprotected part of Valerius’ anatomy. He is the better, strangely, for the ‘problem’ from book 5, more thoughtful (!) and even interestingly vulnerable, leading to a contemplation that more water has flowed under the bridge, than remains to flow. I like Serpentius a lot. As I too am beginning to think that way. Erk!

As with a few of the (longer than three books) series there are on the go at the moment, especially of the Roman sort, you have to ask the question, could you read this one on its own? Could you read this as a one-off, because you can’t be bothered finding and reading the rest of the series first, or you don’t know that it’s #6 of a series? I’d imagine it’s a worry, not only for the writer, but also the publisher. The trend these days does seem to be in creating a ‘brand’ series, something that will sell/recoup investment over several volumes, one-offs historical novels are generally a thing of the past. Unless you’re a previously well-established writer. Which must make it hard for a new writer to get started with a ‘name’ publisher. Which might explain why (it seems to me) more writers are going through the self-publishing route. Anyway, could you read Scourge and not have the feeling you really should have read the others? Yes. I think you could. The explanations are there, but built in to the story, as if the story began here and you discover bits about his past as an explanation for his actions, as you go. Then there’s enough self-contained action you keep you happy and the time period, as mentioned earlier, is an interesting one. More so, if you had a little background knowledge *raises hand* of the period before starting.

I think I’d be right in saying that Douglas Jackson describes and interprets (as much as one can from 2,000 years distance) the characters, even some of the events (?) surrounding beginning at least, of the Emperor Vespasian’s reign, in relation to other writers writing of the period I’m currently on the go with. Robert Fabbri for example. Though his (RF) Vespasian (for me, where I am in the series at least) hasn’t got close to being Emperor as yet, however, Douglas and Robert do seem to differ, partly on the character of Vespasian’s brother Sabinus.

Writing about this period, the Jews in Palestine, the start of the Christian religion, could have been an opportunity for making some comparisons with the current troubles down there. Wisely, perhaps, Douglas stays out of it. Robert Fabbri has come closer to the birth of Christianity, but both steer clear of any kind of ‘they were here first’-type angle. You and I can draw our own conclusions, maybe.

So…to the end. The series shows no signs of either ending, though it will have to one day, as Valerius hasn’t yet achieved immortality – though it is going according to plan so far…but I digress…the end of this book: Holy cow! A cliffhanger of a cliffhanger! A cliffhanger, thrown over the edge of a cliffhanger! I’ve not seen a (longer than three) series do it like this before (I’m not saying it hasn’t been done, just I’ve never seen it). Incredible feeling of ‘YOU BUGGER!” as I realise all the pages left are the historical note end things and not a happy ending. Wow! Magnificent! Roll on the next one…

You can buy Scourge of Rome at The Book Depository

Related reviews on Speesh Reads you might like:

Hero of RomeRome's Fallen Eagle

 

 

 

Me, on Goodreads

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