Book review: The Eagle’s Vengeance by Anthony Riches

The Eagle's Vengeance by Anthony Riches
The Eagle's Vengeance by Anthony Riches
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Britannia is in chaos, fearsome tribal women are torturing and killing Roman soldiers… and intrepid imperial fugitive and centurion Marcus Valerius Aquila is on another mission seemingly impossible.

The lean, mean Roman fighting machine is on the move again in the sixth book of Anthony Riches’ masterful Empire series which serves up heart-thumping, high-octane heroics in the darkest, remotest frontiers of lands ruled by the notorious Emperor Commodus in the second century AD.

Riches’ thrilling, blood-and-guts adventures have won him several legions’ worth of adoring fans and The Eagle’s Vengeance delivers the same winning formula of brutal warfare, bone-crunching battle sequences, cohort camaraderie and the blackest of black humour.

A military historian, Riches is becoming one of the leaders of a popular pack of Roman fiction writers who put the emphasis firmly on the hardy warriors who formed the fighting backbone of the Roman Empire.

Riches’ trusty weapons are gritty realism and heart-pounding action, all played out by brave but ruthless soldiers who brandish their battle-hardened cynicism with below-the-belt banter and scatological one-liners.

After their successful Dacian campaign, the Tungrian auxiliary cohorts have returned to Hadrian’s Wall, less than eager to be back in a ‘misty, swamp-ridden, rain-soaked nest of evil-tempered, blue-painted madmen.’

And things couldn’t be worse. There is some unfinished, perilous business to be sorted and the legions are overstretched, struggling to man the forts of the northern frontier in the face of increasing barbarian resistance.

Amongst the soldiers is Centurion Marcus Corvus, one of the Tungrians’ most inspirational young officers. His nickname is ‘Two Knives’ but his real identity is Marcus Valerius Aquila, on the run from the megalomaniac emperor who executed his high-ranking father and family in Rome, declaring them all traitors.

The Tungrians are the only soldiers who can be sent into the northern wastes, far beyond the long abandoned wall built by Antoninus where the eagle, a lost symbol of imperial power of the Sixth Victorious Legion, is just waiting to be snatched.

But the mission is virtually suicidal. Protected by an impassable swamp and hidden in an all-but-impregnable fort known as the Fang on top of a high mountain, the eagle has to be recovered to prevent the legion being cashiered and broken up.

Marcus and his men must penetrate the heart of an enemy led by vicious tribal leader Calgus, a man they believed had been left for dead on an earlier campaign. With the might of a barbarian tribe at their heels and ghosting through a wilderness patrolled by the Vixens, a sisterhood of vicious tribal women, the last thing Marcus and his men need is a group of traitors embedded in the heart of the legions…

As always, Riches gets as near as is possible to the life of the Roman soldier... his world-weary wit, his merciless mindset, his fighting spirit, his prejudice, his bond of brotherhood and his sense of earthly transience.

Meticulous research, military know-how and the ability to embroider real history with colourful threads of exciting and credible fiction make the Empire series sing out loud about an age of adventure, political intrigue and the deadliest danger.

And as our hero heads for the vipers’ nest that is Rome, we are left with the tantalising prospect of unearthing the mystery behind the slaughter of Marcus’s family and witnessing some long overdue revenge.

Stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood, the next chapter of this explosive saga will not be for the faint-hearted…

(Hodder, paperback, £7.99)