Further battlefield adventures of the ancient Roman centurions Macro and Cato.
In A.D. 44, the emperor Claudius secretly dispatches his right-hand man, a Greek named Narcissus, to meet with General Plautius, in the midst of an extended campaign against the insurgent British army. The journey is arduous, and most of Narcissus’ retinue is killed before reaching the general. With the emperor suffering low public opinion in Rome, he needs to check on the progress of the campaign, and to verify that Plautius is still loyal and harbors no political ambitions for himself. Narcissus isn’t happy with the general’s explanation of slow and steady progress but recognizes it as an honest response. He stays with the general’s party, absorbing his complicated strategy to ensnare the brilliant leader of the Britons, Caratacus. (Scarrow provides maps that explain the campaign, as well as descriptions of the chain of command.) Narcissus also witnesses the stormy relationship between Plautius and his second-in-command, Legate Vespasian, and actually fans the flames a bit. Meanwhile, series heroes Macro and Cato (The Eagle and the Wolves, 2004, etc.) face different problems in leading their respective centuries. While Macro has commanded his legion for ten years, an anxious Cato is only ten days into his new post. Both run afoul of their immediate superior, the sadistic (and not particularly competent) Maximius. He views every reasonable suggestion from Macro as a threat to his authority, and targets Cato for particularly harsh treatment. After promising a group of captives that their lives will be spared, Cato is commanded by Maximius to blind them. Later, Cato’s inexperience leads to a costly mistake and, after a heated argument among senior officers, he is sentenced to death; Macro faces the decision of his life when ordered to carry out this sentence.
Fifth series entry deftly balances gritty action with complex battle strategy and ancient historical detail. Scarrow has carved out a unique niche.