A richly detailed novel set in Imperial Rome of Emperor Valerian at the end of the third century AD with the Sassanid challenging the Roman Empire on the eastern borders.
Thriller of Political Intrigue and Military Campaigns in Roman Empire
This is the second book in the Warrior of Rome series and picks up the story of Ballista as he escapes from his ill-fated mission to prevent Arete falling into the hands of the Sassanid Persians as described in Fire in the East. After returning to Antioch, Ballista finds himself out of favour with the emperor and most of his council.
Political Intrigue at the Centre of the Roman Empire
Although of high-rank Marcus Clodius Ballista, Dux Ripae and Knight of Rome, is an Angle from the northern, Germanic borders of the Empire and is therefore not fully attuned to the political nuances of the imperial court. For that he has to rely on his wife, Julia, who is of Patrician birth and therefore grew up in the heart of Roman political life. Like the hero of many thrillers Ballista is highly competent but something of an outsider and a maverick who gets things done.
Administration and New Campaigns
In a move driven by political manoeuvring amongst those close to the Emperor Ballista is sent to an administrative role in Ephesus persecuting Christians in the east of the Empire. The Christians are seen as a subversive element that cause the Roman gods to be unhappy and thereby cause the problems that the Empire is facing at its borders. This role soon frustrates Ballista and he comes to disapprove of the task and after quietly subverting the process he returns to Antioch and further alienation from the power brokers.
Ballista realises that recent assignments have been to keep him out of the way and by setting him up to fail. By doing so it reduce the influence with Emperor Valerian of those associated with Ballista.
The elderly emperor, Valerian is to take an army south-east to Carrhae to force Shapur, the Sassanid King of Kings, to stand and fight. Ballista is given a minor role and recognises that there is a plot to unseat Valerian. Ballista can see that the campaign has been created to fail and make a coup possible.
Despite Ballista’s interventions and despite success in some battles the campaign does not go well and is undermined from within. As a result Emperor Valerian, Ballista and others come face to face with Shapur, King of Kings in less than happy circumstances. That will play out in Lion of the Sun – the next book in the series
Dr Harry Sidebottom is Fellow at University of Oxford. He therefore brings a deep understanding and knowledge of Roman history and life in the Empire. This shines through and gives Warrior of Rome, King of Kings a clear and consistent context based on a detailed and fascinating description of all levels of Roman society.
Harry Sidebottom is a historian of ancient warfare, classical art and the cultural history of the Roman Empire. He brings the techniques of the Roman army and life in the |Roman Empire alive in a most readable way.
Scholarly and a Cracking Read
The detail in Warrior of Rome, King of King is rich, even scholarly, but the writing has pace and the characterisation matches the well-written background. The story stands comparison with modern thrillers with its understanding of the political environment in which Ballista, the Warrior of Rome has to operate and the demands it places on its military leaders.
The historical context should not discourage lovers of modern thrillers as Warrior of Rome is a fast-paced thriller where the background is better described than the often arcane settings of many current thrillers. Warrior of Rome is an enjoyable modern thriller that just happens to be set in the Roman Empire of the third century AD. The story continues with the third book: Lion of the Sun.
There is a detailed Appendix that explains the historical context, people, places and terminology.
Warrior of Rome, King of Kings (2009, ISBN: 978-0-718-15331-1) by Harry Sidebottom is published in hardback by Penguin, Michael Joseph at £12.99.