AVENGER OF ROME
Reviewed by Steven A. McKay
Avenger of Rome is the third novel (following Defender of Rome and Hero of Rome) in a series that follows young tribune Gaius Valerius Verrens as he travels around the empire, trying to survive, while back in Rome politics can be just as deadly as any sweaty barbarian’s blade.
I particularly enjoyed the beginning and end of this book. Gaius is sent to Antioch to spy on the enormously popular General Corbulo, but the voyage there is fraught with danger and really sucks you into the characters’ world right from the start.
Indeed, after a few chapters, each one ending on a nail-biting cliff-hanger, I began to wonder if the pace would keep up as it was starting to become a bit too much. The effect was a little desensitizing, and the edgy chapter-endings were losing power.
Thankfully, the pace settles down (somewhat!) once Antioch is reached, although things begin to build up again near the end, with battle scenes and a quite fantastic twist which I honestly didn’t see coming, leaving the reader satisfied as the final page is turned.
I found myself noting down some negatives with the book – for example, I’d really like the other characters to be explored a bit more (Serpentius in particular, he could even have a spin-off of his own), and I find it a bit off-putting when the author keeps referring to certain characters by their full titles (e.g. Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, rather than just Corbulo).
The scenes with Emperor Nero also felt a little tacked on, serving to show the twisted political machinations back in Rome, but not really feeling like they had all that much to do with the main story. That said, I’m sure those scenes have a part to play in setting things up for the next book in the series, Sword of Rome which has just come out in hardback.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Avenger of Rome – my criticisms are minor and mostly nit-picking. Gaius Valerius Verrens has become a favourite character of mine in recent years and I look forward to continuing his adventures for a long time. If you haven’t read any of this series yet, I advise you to get reading.
Oh, one more thing: Douglas Jackson has a quite disturbing way of writing torture scenes so the faint-hearted might want to skip those parts…I can see why he also writes crime fiction!
RATED – 4.5/5
Steven A. McKay is the author of Wolf’s Head, a 14th century Robin Hood novel which has been getting rave reviews.