Rome The Eagle of The Twelfth by M.C. Scott
They are known as the Legion of The Damned…
Throughout the Roman Army, the XIIth Legion is notorious for its ill fortune. It faces the harshest of postings, the toughest of campaigns, the most vicious of opponents. For one young man, Demalion of Macedon, joining will be a baptism of fire. And yet, amid the violence and savagery of his life as a legionary, he realises he has discovered a vocation – as a soldier and a leader of men. He has come to love the XIIth and all the bloody-minded, dark-hearted soldiers he calls his brothers.
But just when he has found a place in the world, all that he cares about is ripped from him. During the brutal Judaean campaign, the Hebrew army inflict a catastrophic defeat upon the legion – not only decimating their ranks, but taking away their soul, the eagle.
There is one final chance to save the legion’s honour – to steal back the eagle. To do that, Demalion and his legionaries must go undercover into Jerusalem, into the very heart of their enemy – where discovery will mean the worst of deaths – if they are to recover their pride.
And that, in itself, is a task worthy only of heroes.
I’m still relatively new to reading historical fiction on a regular basis, but last year I was lucky enough to read Hereward by James Wilde and it struck a chord with me. This year I read another fantastic historical novel, Tom-All- Alones by Lynn Shepherd. Based on my enjoyment of both of these I promised that if I got the opportunity to explore more work in this genre I would jump at the chance. Whether by telepathy or some other more arcane method, the nice people at Bantam Press were obviously listening and Rome The Eagle of The Twelfth recently arrived.
There is much to enjoy here, but it was the depiction of the various battles that really took my breath away. Most of the action is described directly from Demalions’s perspective and there is a real sense that he is right in the midst of these frenetic, bloody encounters. Scott perfectly captures the chaos of each engagement as well as the emotions that Demalion experiences. As he spends more and more time as a soldier, his attitudes toward constant training and bloodshed evolve and he becomes far more comfortable on the battlefield. The initial fear of being in a life-threatening situation never disappears, but he also learns the raw elation of surviving. It’s an effective juxtaposition that he feels most alive when surrounded by death. At one point, another character asks Demalion if he loves war and he finds he can do nothing other than say yes. The harsh reality of the situation is never sugar-coated though and the human cost of battle is in evidence on each and every page.
Demalion of Macedon is at the heart of the story and the reader gets to follow him from his time as a raw recruit, through his training (which is almost as brutal as the war he later finds himself in), to the point where he is considered a veteran. Scott takes the time to establish the friendships and camaraderie that develops between all of the men, it adds a welcome layer of depth to all of their interactions. The men of the Twelfth start out as strangers, become soldiers and then eventually brothers in arms.
In the final hundred pages, the emphasis of the story shifts slightly as Demalion becomes embroiled in the politics of Jerusalem. He gradually transitions from soldier to spy when an old acquaintance resurfaces in his life unexpectedly. It’s a nice change of pace, and the action becomes a bit more cerebral in nature.
It’s worth noting that though this novel is part of an on-going series, I found it entirely accessible and didn’t feel hampered in any way by not having read it predecessors. If anything, now that I have had the opportunity to enjoy this book, I am keen to seek out the others in the series. M.C. Scott’s writing is incredibly evocative and I found myself hanging on every word. If you’ve enjoyed the cinematic scope of films like Gladiator, or television shows like Spartacus, then you’ll appreciate Scott’s vision. This is perfect blend of visceral, graphic action with an intelligent well-paced plot.
Rome The Eagle of the Twelfth was published on 24th May 2012 by Bantam Press and is available now. Highly recommended.