Eboracum: The Village by Graham Clews

Book Review by Thomas A. Timmes

Within minutes of opening the book, I could sense that Mr. Clews is an exceptionally gifted writer whose ability to immediately captivate the reader is far and above the best I’ve seen in a long time. Here are two samples of Mr. Clews’ writing: “Form the men up, and do it fast,” Gaius muttered, and glanced skyward. Thunderous black clouds scudded south on a gusting wind; and while the rain was no longer heavy, it lashed hard at the skin and stung the eyes.” (page 1) “Yes, sir.” Rufus offered a gap-toothed grin, framed by a helmet that dripped rain onto a lorica that wept streaks of rust.” (page 2)

It is little wonder that this book is a winner of the Premier Book Awards Best Historical Novel 2008. Mr. Clews’ other two books in the Eboracum Trilogy, The Fortress (2008) and Carved in Stone (2010), were also singled out for Historical Novel awards. The stories are compelling and his research is impeccable.

Eboracum is the ancient name for the modern walled English city of York, North Yorkshire, which sits at the confluence of the Ouse and Foss Rivers and began as a wooden Roman fort in71 AD. Over five-thousand Legionaries of the IX Legion Hispana occupied the 473-meter by 402-meter fort a mere ten years after their devastating defeat at the hands of Boudica and the Iceni tribe. Only Legate Quintus Petillus Ceralis, his cavalry, and a handful of Legionaries escaped the slaughter. Nonetheless, ten years later the same Ceralis is appointed Governor of Britain and once again commands the reconstituted IX Hispana, supported by II Adiutrix and XX Valeria Victrix.

For those familiar with Boudica’s rebellion, this book contains several of the same characters, such as Cartimandua, the Brigantian tribe, Caratacus, Venutius, and Vollocatus, but, interestingly, they are not the focus of the book. Instead the focus is on the adventures and families of Tribune Gaius Sabinus Trebonius, a Roman Engineer, and a Brigantian minor chief, Cethen Lamh-fada. The characters are relatable and the reader’s sympathies are evenly split between the two. There are no heroes and no villains, just everyday people with familiar problems that echo down the centuries.

Venutius and Vollocatus have stirred the northern tribes to rebel once again, and in 71 AD Ceralis leads his Legions north of the Abus (modern Humber River) to build a series of forts in Cartimandua’s tribal area from which to launch his attacks on the rebels. This book is unique in that while the narrative is replete with action and historical facts, it focuses more so on the manner in which the local Britons and Romans would have regarded one another during times of mutual hardship and danger. I found this approach to be new, refreshing, and informative. And I am eagerly looking forward to reading the other two books in this trilogy.

Mr. Clews warns the reader that the soldier’s language is a bit profane, even coarse at times. I personally did not take offense with the language.

Mr. Clews is a York native who emigrated to Canada when he was thirteen and later became a Chartered Accountant (Certified Public Accountant). He also served in the Canadian Army Reserve for sixteen years. Since retiring, Mr. Clews has written seven successful books with more on the way.

Thomas A. Timmes is the author of the Legio XVII four-book series. His fourth book, Legio XVII: The Eagle Strikes, was published in early July.

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Union Jack Eboracum for the UK