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Book Review

Book Cover

Traitors of Rome (Hardback)


Author: Simon Scarrow
Publisher: Headline
352 pages
RRP: £20.00
ISBN: 978 1 47225 840 3
Publication Date: 14 November 2019

Tribune Cato and Centurion Macro have survived much since their first meeting. They were involved in the invasion of Britannia, travelled together across the east and down to Egypt. In AD 56 there is growing tension between Rome and the Parthians over who has influence in Armenia. Emperor Nero sends General Corbula and the Praetorian Guard East to settle the question…

Traitors of Rome (447 pages) is the eighteenth book in the Eagles of the Empire historical dramas, set in and around the ancient Roman world. The book is written by Simon Scarrow, who has also written novels around Wellington and Napoleon.

One of the leaps of imagination you have to make with these novels is the unlikely amount of famous and infamous real life characters Cato and Macro meet along their journey. This allows the author to place the characters at important historical moments, bringing important real players into the fictional world.

As far as I can tell, the book is well researched. Scarrow has paid attention to the differing levels of his readers understanding. While it’s a pretty good guess that most readers will understand what a Centurion and General are, Scarrow drops in a small amount of clarification for terms like Tribune. Not that there is a lot of language that is not easily assessable even to a reader who knows little of Roman history.

Set in AD 56, it is two years before the Parthian war of 58-63, Corbula is still trying to muster, arm and train an army fit to invade Parthia. Not an easy task when he is sent such poor troops as the Syrian Cohort, led by the inept Prefect Paccius Orfitus. Corbula. Calculating that it will take more than a year to train the army, he needs to buy himself time. He dispatches Cato to the Parthians with an offer of a peace treaty hoping to buy this precious time. In the meanwhile, a local uprising in an obscure and minor city gives him the excuse and opportunity to take part of the army to put the rebels down and to toughen up the army. What could go wrong?

With the mystic of the office of Emperor buried with the assassination of Caligula and the elevation of Claudius, being Emperor became a hazardous occupation, in all over eighty of Rome’s Emperors would go on to lose their lives to assassination. The year of the four Emperors would further erode the office with elevation through bribes. Eventually the reign of Vespasian started a new dynasty, but this highlighted something which was already clear. To be a strong and popular general under a weak Emperor was a dangerous position to be and Corbulo was both strong and popular. His very success could be viewed with suspicious imperial eyes. His eventual fate is foreshadowed in the novel, but in a blink and you’ll miss it moment.

This was a very easy book to read and works perfectly as a stand-alone novel. Macro and Cato go in different directions for most of the story, Cato to Partia, Macro with Corbula.

In many ways the most touching element in the novel is the relationship between the two men. Macro is a tough, but aging soldier, Cato the younger man. Scarrow portrays their almost father/son relationship and the emotional attachment they feel for each other well. I liked the way he was able to use their tone, pattern and language to really separate them. It made their conversations jump out of the page, making them feel all the more real.

Of course, you may have just turned up for the battles, if so, you will not be disappointed. The story contains a lot of action, both in the siege and in Cato’s perilous journey into enemy territory. Scarrow's battles are bloody, well-paced and written in a way that you are not likely to get lost.


Charles Packer

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