And so onto the third book in the Warrior of Rome series featuring the very real historical figure of Ballista, an officer in the third century Roman army, a man of Germanic birth sent to defend the eastern borders against the growing threat of the Sassanid empire.
Ballista and the Emperor Valerian are in a bit of a pickle. Betrayed by Macrianus the Lame, they are captured by Sassanid forces and sent before Shapur himself. As the story begins, Valerian has been forced to prostrate himself before The King of Kings and Ballista is sworn to an oath that he must break if he is to see his family again and assist Valerian in taking back his empire. He is reminded of another oath that he broke many years before, one that is covered at the beginning of the first book.
I was disappointed with the second book, though I appreciated the character development I felt that the plot at times appeared direction-less. That’s not to say that it was a bad book – it wasn’t. I also appreciate that the second book in any series is always going to be difficult. They tend to focus more on exploring characters and if the author is still getting to grips with his characters and his universe then they can sometimes come across as disjointed.
In the third of what is expected to be a 12 book series, the author has fused the best elements of the first two books and created a rather solid piece of work. It has all the gripping action of the first, including some well illustrated battle scenes, strong characterisation and integrated with historical asides that slot nicely into the narrative and dialogue (not always an easy trick to pull off and considering the author is an academic he gets a double thumbs up).
Again his expertise on the period is used to good effect. As a Professor of History, Sidebottom knows how to apply research to what is a sparse period of documentary evidence for the Roman empire (the third century crisis) a time when Rome is threatened from within and without and there is a sense of unease at the growing cult of Christianity within Roman borders.
Overall I am enjoying this series and looking forward to the paperback release of the fourth book The Caspian Gates this summer.