It is sometimes said that everyone has one book in them. However the real test is more often than not how well or otherwise a novice novelist follows up on their initial efforts and even if their second novel is half as good as their first. I am happy to report that in Arrows of Fury (Empire: volume two) Anthony Riches has more than succeeded in again writing a well researched, fast paced and understandably somewhat bloody military novel set on the rebellious northern Frontiers of the Roman Empire.
In this second novel Riches, while maintaining the momentum of his first novel, has managed to overcome some of the minor areas of potentially doubtful historical accuracy with his first book. In the case of his hero’s love interest and her position as a female doctor working within the very masculine Roman military this is effectively overcome by an elegantly written single paragraph. In his acknowledgement Riches has cited the help in his research for this second 'volume' from several of those involved in historical re-enactment, as well as archaeologists and Roman historians. Their contributions appear to have been seamlessly interwoven into this book, in my view, making for a stronger story.
This book follows on directly from the events portrayed in Anthony Riches first novel Wounds of Honour and again follows the actions of his hero Marcus (now Centurion Corvus) and the First Cohort of Tungrians he is serving with. Following the devastating losses to the Roman military incurred at the 'Battle of Lost Eagle' reinforcements have been sent into the North of Britain unfortunately not all of them entirely suitable for service in a well below fighting strength infantry unit such as the Tungrians.
The constant threat to his life as the son of a ‘traitor’ from the emperor and his minions, outlined in the first volume, has also not diminished. Along with reinforcements; a new enemy for Marcus has arrived in Britain as well as a new Governor keen to make his mark in bringing the rebellious Britons to heel. The new Governor wishes to take the war to the rebels by renewing the campaign in the teeth of approaching winter rather than waiting for the usual summer campaigning season so Marcus has only a few days to get the men in his new century ready for combat.
The only reinforcements available to the Tungrians include an over strength century of Hamian archers from Syria with much of the novel is taken up with the attempts of Marcus as their centurion to get them ready to face the rebellious tribesmen in a way they have neither been trained nor previously equipped for. Rather than at long range with archery the Hamians must learn to stand face to face with their opponents while armed with much heavier armour than they are used to as well as sword, spears and shield.
Taking ill-prepared soldiers up against large numbers of rebellious tribesmen seems a recipe for disaster but can Marcus again triumph against the odds? Only reading the book will provide the answer but it is worth noting that 182 AD was the start of around 30 years of continual warfare for the Roman Empire both within and outside her borders. As he admits on his website this leaves a lot of scope for Anthony Riches to continue the story of Marcus in a long and probably bloody career and I will probably be impatiently waiting in line for further instalments in the story of ‘Centurion Corvus’ and his men as and when they become available.
Riches has provided a tale with a strong element of the ‘reality’ of Roman military life in the face of rebellion which is tinged with not just a large degree of gore but also a generally improved historical feel for the period. Like his first novel his second is a fast, exciting read and well worth a look if you wish something in the military line which has more than just a ‘taste’ of Rome about it.
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