Book Review by Thomas A. Timmes
Nick Brown is a very talented storyteller! The Earthly Gods, published in 2016, grabs you early on and holds you fast until the final pages, which fly by way too quickly. It`s a sad day to finally put it aside. This volume is the sixth in the Agent of Rome series and is undoubtedly one of his best. I found the intrigue and suspense of The Earthly Gods more than compensated for the lack of flying pila, clashing shields, and the sights and sounds of battle.
My personal preference is historical fiction with a supportive story that includes plenty of battlefield action. Besides entertainment, I want to learn true Roman history. Palace intrigues, misbehaving Emperors, and Roman excesses leave me cold, but everyone is entitled to their own likes and dislikes. For some readers, battles get boring over time, which is why we are privileged to have a wide variety of authors and stories from which to choose. This is not to say that The Earthly Gods falls into the category of "palace intrigues" because it clearly does not. It has its own separate niche that excludes battles and Roman politics altogether. This book is built around a host of interesting characters and a truly fascinating story.
Other than the "Plague of Cyprian" (probably smallpox) that broke out in 250 AD, claiming the life of Emperor Claudius Gothicus (268-270 AD) (among many others), The Earthly Gods is not set in any particular time period. Nick Brown makes this clear in a brief historical note: "Unlike most of the previous Agents of Rome novels, The Earthly Gods is not specifically related to the events of the time."
The principal characters in this story are Corbulo and Indavara, his gladiator bodyguard. Following successful assignments in Syria, Arabia, and Phoenicia, Cassius Quintius Corbulo, a young Officer of Rome`s Imperial Security Service (roughly equivalent to the UK`s MI5 and MI6 and the USA`s FBI and CIA), is stationed in Antioch circa 270 A.D. Weeks earlier, while the two men were still in Berytus (Beirut), Indavara was kidnapped leaving no trace of his whereabouts. An earlier attempt to kidnap him in Arabia had failed, but this time the unknown attackers were successfully.
Desperate to find his faithful companion, Corbulo breaks all the rules of the Security Service and aligns himself with a small group of tough, battle-wise Syrians who are on their own quest to find a missing family member. This odd little band travels throughout the Eastern Empire seeking clues, but as the pieces fall into place, Corbulo and his companions face one impossible obstacle after another, leaving a bloody trail across the Empire. Always in a hurry, I wanted Corbulo to find Indavara and the missing girl, but the journey is the story and shouldn`t be rushed as it unfolds slowly like a delicate flower to be appreciated and admired.
Always in a hurry, I wanted Corbulo to find Indavara and the missing girl, but the journey is the story and shouldn`t be rushed as it unfolds slowly like a delicate flower to be appreciated and admired.
The outcome of Corbulo`s search is not a foregone conclusion and doesn`t follow a predictable pattern. Numerous twists and turns leave the reader constantly guessing where the story is going. It certainly didn`t end as I expected it would but was totally satisfying nonetheless.
Thomas A. Timmes is the author of the Legio XVII series. His fourth book, Legio XVII: The Eagle Strikes, was released in July 2016. Tom earned military and civilian awards including the Medal for Exceptional Civilian Service, the Defense Superior Service Medal, Combat Infantryman`s Badge, holds a Master`s Degree in History, and is a member of the National History Honor Society.