So continues the exploits of Cato, Optio of the sixth century of Legio II Augusta in the attempts to conquer the Britons and battle for acceptance in the legions who looked unkindly on the unusual method by which he became their superior officer.
This second novel follows immediately on from the first “Under the Eagle” and we are thrown into the middle of the war against Caratacus and the Catuvellauni tribe. Along for the ride are a few familiar faces: Macro the Centurion, Vespasian the Legate, Vitellius the Tribune (both future Emperors) and a few other incidental characters from the first.
Fans of the first novel will slot in quite nicely without feeling too disjointed as we are reminded quickly and efficiently the events and people of the first. The writing style is very reminiscent of Bernard Cornwell and fans of his work would easily settle into this series.
First the good points. This novel has flow that is as good as the first. Cato is coming into his own as he copes with growing up in the legion in the middle of a campaign as a vastly underqualified Officer. His relationship with Macro is also coming along quite nicely. It also deals with the issue of the conquest of the Britons in light but effective detail. The plot flows well and is an easy read.
But there are drawbacks. The characters are pretty one dimensional with not much scope for development beyond the stereotypes to which they subscribe. Emperor Claudius is portrayed as an inept buffoon, a caricature obviously being made to contrast with the shrewdness and justness of Vespasian who is portrayed as wholly noble and all round perfect commander of Legio II Augusta. There is no real depth to the plot and even the element of the mystery of a plan to assassinate Claudius is quite superficial. The mechanics of battle lack any real depth or focus on strategy and in that it comes off as the poor cousin to another series I have been reading recently (Warrior of Rome by Harry Sidebottom).
Overall it is a good read and well written but it is best not to expect anything too heavy. I will continue reading the series but in the hope that some depth is added in subsequent novels.