Total War Rome: Destroy Carthage by David Gibbins
Carthage, 146 BC. This is the story of Fabius Petronius Secundus – Roman legionary and centurion – and of his general Scipio Aemilianus, and his rise to power: from his first battle against the Macedonians, that seals the fate of Alexander the Great’s successors, to total war in North Africa and the Siege of Carthage. Scipio’s success brings him admiration and respect, but also attracts greed and jealousy – for the closest allies can become the bitterest of enemies. And then there is the dark horse, Julia, of the Caesar family – in love with Scipio but betrothed to his rival Paullus – who causes a vicious feud. Ultimately for Scipio it will come down to one question: how much is he prepared to sacrifice for his vision of Rome? Inspired by Total War: Rome II, from the bestselling Total War series, Destroy Carthage is the first in an epic series of novels. Not only the tale of one man’s fate, it is also a journey to the core of Roman times, through a world of extraordinary military tactics and political intrigue that Rome’s warriors and citizens used to cheat death.
I don’t read a huge amount of tie-in fiction, especially game tie-ins, but when Destroy Carthage arrived through my letterbox I was significantly intrigued enough to give it a try. Romans, espionage, politics, war-elephants and catapults sounds like a winning combination to me.
A big chunk of the book, unsurprisingly, is taken up with the historical events leading up to the final Roman assault on the city of Carthage. The battles themselves are suitably bloodthirsty, frenzied events. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised by just how gory things actually got. I have to admit that I was hoping for something along these lines when I started reading. I do like a bit of gore. I’m a huge fan of Spartacus, the recent TV series, and I particularly loved the fight scenes. They have a chaotic abandon that’s infectious. Destroy Carthage has moments that evoke exactly the same sort of reaction. A bit of unrestrained violence can never be a bad thing when you’re reading about warriors. Can’t go wrong with a beheading or two can you?
This author has real flare for capturing the chaos to be found at the heart of any conflict. His writing never sugarcoats the harsh reality of battle, warriors die in a variety of gruesome ways. At one point Gibbins describes how Fabius views his first real experience in a fight. He likens it to having tunnel vision, never worrying about what is to his right or left only what is directly in front. Everything boils down to him and the opponent he is directly facing off against, the mechanics of war are stripped right back to the bare bones.
The book covers quite a large chunk of Fabius and Scipio’s respective military careers, from their late teens to early middle age. The reader gets insight into their time learning/training in Rome and then through the various campaigns they were both part of. The events in this novel take place prior to the time of the Roman Empire. It was interesting to discover that the Romans didn’t have a standing army just a draft that was called upon only in times of war.
As this is a game tie-in novel there were a couple of things that I was wondering about. I’m not an avid gamer, casual at best, but I’d imagine that the story in the novel would probably link pretty closely to the game. I got the distinct impression that when characters were discussing tactics this was aimed at readers who are also potential gamers. Are these some sort of subtle game hints perhaps?
There is also a little part of me that is insanely curious about how this sort of fiction comes about. The game developers obviously want a tie in to the existing franchise but must give the author a certain amount of leeway to develop their own take on historical events. Choosing a well-established historical fiction author was exactly the right way for the publishers to go; David Gibbins is a known quantity. Earlier this year I read his most recent novel, Pharaoh, and I was won over by his writing. The same blend of attention to detail and skillful storytelling are on display here.
Overall, Total War Rome: Destroy Carthage is an entertaining read. There are loads of violent skirmishes, plenty of history, and I was suitably impressed. If the purpose of this novel is to generate interest in the game, I think it’s fair to say that the novel has more than adequately managed its job. I found myself switching between writing this review and looking at trailers for the game online.
Total War Rome: Destroy Carthage is published by Macmillan and is available now.