A British high-school history teacher goes down, down, down into the world of Roman legions attacking Britain, getting into fine military nitty-gritty.
Politics and military maneuvers jointly shape newcomer Scarrow’s mighty plot. In the prologue, invading Romans, driven back by the barbarians, can’t drag a heavy chest of loot through the ooze of a bog; their general orders them to sink it into the mud, and a soldier makes a wax map so it can be recovered by a later expedition. The story begins a century later, during a renewed invasion in A.D. 42, when everything hinges on a precious scroll of the map. Whoever digs up the chest may well find himself on the way to being Emperor. As in any tale of politics and empire, spies and traitors abound. We follow the rise of Macro, an illiterate soldier risen to the important rank of centurion in the Second Legion. Training legionnaires takes the iron strength and fabulously foul mouth of a Parris Island drill sergeant, and a centurion must be able to inspire his men to hold fast and die should worst come to worst. Macro’s footing as an officer remains unstable. Should his illiteracy be found out—and caring for his 80 men involves a nightmarish number of administrative duties—he’ll be demoted back to the ranks. The Emperor Claudius, in need of a success in Britain to nail down his empire, sends a message to the legate Vespasian: new recruit Cato is a freedman and should be made an officer. Before sailing to Britain, Cato teaches Macro to read and write. Meanwhile, ambitious Vitellius, moral Vespasian, and his light-fingered wife Flavia have their eyes on the throne once Claudius dies and his heirs hastily succumb. Much depends on the power of wealth flowing from the chest waiting in British mud.
A warmly welcome sequel looks assured.