The long memory of an unfinished war drives this historical novel from archaeologist Gibbins.
The novel is a companion piece to the computer game series Total War. Merchandising aside, Gibbins knows his history and uses arcane facts and vivid military sequences to tell the story of Rome before the emperors, presented through 22 years in the lives of two friends. This is a violent world: Greece, Egypt, Carthage, Celtic Europe and Rome are waypoints on the routes of trade, culture and the social advancement provided by war. Scipio and Fabius begin as teenagers in military training, their mantra—to finish the destruction of Carthage, defeated by Rome 55 years before by Scipio Africanus, the boy’s adoptive grandfather. Fabius is the fictional bodyguard of the historic Scipio, and theirs is a coming-of-age story on an imperial scale. Beginning at the academy in Rome, they march together through war in Macedonia and Spain until Scipio is at the forefront of a final confrontation, as Carthage has become a threatening force again. Social and political intrigue illuminate a mix of characters from the patrician families, whose motivations are best described by Polybius, Greek tutor of the young Scipio, who states that “Gods do not win wars, just men.” Gibbins delivers the last battle in superb scenes of the horrid surprises of war, and although he rewrites an alternative death for Hasdrubal, the general defending Carthage, his work rings true.
“Carthage must be destroyed” is the endgame of this novel, but the road to that Roman victory is the true reading enjoyment.