Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Arrows of Fury a Review

Fiction, review Historical or Hysterical?

Arrows of Fury
Roman Hamian archers

Good day my well regarded viewers, I hope this missive finds you all in excellent health, no need for the application of an emetic? As promised we are continuing our series of book reviews. Just to remind you of the three standards that will be assessed. The first is the quality of the story is it well written? Secondly then, is it engaging with good characters and an absorbing plotline that pulls you in? Thirdly, how does it rate on the hysterical or historical metre?
As usual Each book will start of with the commercial review description on the Amazon website. We will also be see how close those are to the mark. As before these reviews will be without fear or favour and is my personal opinion based on my research and my perception of the novel. If anyone wants to challenge my review please feel free to leave a comment or send an email.

Editorial Reviews (Amazon)
'With Wounds of Honour Anthony Riches has produced a terrific first novel that focuses on the soldiers of the Roman Empire in great detail. He vibrantly portrays the life in an auxiliary unit.' -- Canberra Times on WOUNDS OF HONOUR 20091001
Product Description
The Battle of the Lost Eagle saved Hadrian's Wall, but the new Roman governor of Britannia must stamp out the rebellion of the northern tribes or risk losing the province. Rampaging south with sword and flame under the command of their murderous chieftain Calgus, they have stretched his forces to the limit. For Marcus - now simply Centurion Corvus of the 1st Tungrian cohort - the campaign has become doubly dangerous. As reinforcements flood into Britannia he is surrounded by new officers with no reason to protect him from the emperor's henchmen. Death could result from a careless word as easily as from an enemy spear Worse, one of them is close on his heels. While Marcus is training two centuries of Syrian archers to survive a barbarian charge and then take the fight back to their enemy, the new prefect of the 2nd Tungrians has discovered his secret. Only a miracle can save Marcus and the men who protect him from disgrace and death ...Anthony Riches once again brings meticulous research together with brilliant storytelling to capture the authentic feel of what life was like for the Roman Army in a brutal war with a remorseless enemy.
See all Editorial Reviews

The Novel and Description

Hadrian's Wall
I would have to say that the production description is correct, the character Marcus does go through all these challenges. The reader is very much taken on a journey with his cohort of Tungrian auxiliaries marching north of the Hadrian’s Wall fighting off the Caledonia tribesmen with the prospect of sudden death dogging his foot steps. Unlike Manfredi’s Last Legion this review perfectly matches the story it would seem that the reviewer actually read the novel and did enjoy it. That I must admit is a pleasant surprise.

The Story… Quality?
Roman auxiliaries

Looking for an equivalent series I would have to say it was similar to the Napoleonic Sharpe series, lots of a sword and shield action, reasonable descriptions of combat and little in the way of complex plot. Now I am not mentioning this as a criticism it’s a good light hearted action read and Riches on the whole carries the story well. I have mentioned a couple of difficulties later on, but those are technical issues. The story is definitely set in the mid Imperial period and does display some very good research which lends real veracity to the story. Since this is book two I did feel a little lost due to not having read the first, but it did successfully carry the continuity from a previous story.
For me does it live up to the standard set by Lindsay Davis in the Falco novels or Rosemary Sutcliffe? Well honestly in accuracy mostly, in plot no it’s a different beastie, less complex more a fun sword and sandal than in depth analysis of Roman characters, events and motives. Still good value never the less.

The Historical or Hysterical?

caledonii warrior
I would have to rate this novel reasonably high on the historical level, unlike Manfredi’s pathetic work. Anthony Riches makes it very plain in the foreword that he has corresponded and spoken to world renowned experts in Roman military studies and archaeology messers. Bishop and Coulston amongst others. I personally can vouch for their research and knowledge. Well over a decade ago I used their reports and academic journals for reconstruction archaeology of roman armour and weapons, as have dozens of re enactment groups across the world. It receives top marks for Historical effort in a novel.

The Story… Problems

a stunning blog and worth a visit!
All right I’ve given this novel more than a few ticks in story quality, and historical accuracy, now however I get to play critic. Despite my early recommendations there were a few aspects of this novel that I found annoying, mostly small though a couple I felt affect the overall quality taking the shine off an other wise excellent book. Now I know I am a picky reader and my wife usually raises her eyebrow at some of my nitpicking so that possible peccadillo is freely admitted. We’ll start with the minor ones and work upwards.
In the officer ranks of the Legion we have Legate, centurion and tribune all well and good, then for some reason it swaps to First Spear instead of Primus Pilus, and tent leader rather than Decurion. Also the simple numbering for the centuries and cohorts instead of roman numerals is off putting. Then on to the names of the forts all roman names have been translated and anglised so I found that the references were extremely confusing. The editor should have insisted on consistency with the Roman theme. The affection of ‘air your iron’ and ‘up boards’ for draw swords and raise shields is I assume just for dramatic effect and serves for slang, I can see why it was used, it just got a little annoying to see it all the time.
Now onto my first main beef, there was no dramatis persona, I know I should have read the first novel but that is not always possible. It is extremely and I mean extremely confusing to identify and keep track of characters in this story since it launches straight into the action. This would have been easy to rectify and should have been suggested by the agent or the editor.

A famous 'Barbarian' Suicide Squad (Life of Brian)
My last difficulty with the story is the characterisations, the Romans are always professional, mostly upright except for the obvious exception and intelligent and skilled. While the barbarians are sneaky, devious, barbaric, treacherous and stupid, except when a barbarian is forced to change sides, then they automatically assume roman qualities previously lacking. Given the overall good quality of the story I did find those aspects disappointing and felt they dragged down the satisfaction level since they could have been so easily rectified.
In the end I would read another of Riches stories, I found it a promising style in the same lighter vein as the Napoleonic Sharpe series

Historical Fact
celtic warriors

Okay, its just a story- however as I have said
before the author makes a real effort to place his characters in their proper historical context and he succeeds with flying colours. What I really did find amazing was the proper references to Roman surgical tools and procedures. That single piece of the story was my particular favourite.
To any Roman period aficionados I can recommend this as a good read.

As the good doctor says ‘Keep taking the Pills!’

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