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The Legate\'s Daughter by Wallace Breem
It's been a number of years since I read Breem's first class novel, Eagle in the Snow - EITS. That book ranks in my top five historical fiction novels, alongside titles such as The Lantern Bearers by Sutcliff, Hawk Quest by Lyndon and Tyrant by Cameron. While I didn't expect The Legate's Daughter to be as good as EITS - no one can maintain brilliance consistently - I did expect it to be better than it was.

It's the story of two individuals, Curtius Rufus and Criton, both men who for one reason or another, live near the bottom of the social scale. Breem paints wonderfully vibrant scenes of their existence in Rome - better than almost any other writer I can think of. Theirs is a world of innkeepers and shop owners, government officials, charioteers and slaves; the high and mighty appear from time to time, but only to reinforce Rufus' and Criton's feelings of helplessness in the face of overwhelming odds.

What's not to like then? Well, in a phrase, it's the lack of editing. Page after page of dialogue is wrecked by word repetition (two cases of 'endless' in the same paragraph is one instance) and the extreme overuse of adverbs. I'm no stranger to these words as an author, but when characters are, for example, saying 'lightly' and then within a sentence or two, saying 'bluntly', it all becomes too much. There was even one instance of a man inclining his head 'silently'. As my editor once asked me, how else does someone incline their head? The editor's pen appears to have passed far too lightly over this novel.

As other reviewers have commented, there's a lot to commend in the book - I particularly liked the uncertainty of the ending. To me, however, it feels like a draft of a novel that needed several more sweeps and rewrites before being ready to publish. It's a shame.
Ben Kane, bestselling author of the Eagles of Rome, Spartacus and Hannibal novels.

Eagles in the Storm released in UK on March 23, 2017.
Aguilas en la tormenta saldra en 2017.
Twitter: @benkaneauthor
Quote:The editor's pen appears to have passed far too lightly over this novel.

I think the original novel was published by Arrow in the early 70s as a cheap paperback - sort of pulp fiction really. Editorial standards were perhaps not their highest priority. It's only been since the rediscovery of Eagle in the Snow in the wake of Gladiator (it was republished c.2001 after being out of print for decades) that Breem has gained any real attention.

Having said that, editorial standards are none too good today either. I'm often struck by quite obvious repetitions in recent novels; one 'Roman' one (I don't actually remember which - maybe by Scarrow?) had somebody raising their eyebrows on every page, or so it appeared. The effect rapidly became comic. Even the brilliant Lion Wakes by Robert Low has a strange way with speech verbs at times - three characters in succession all 'declaring' something, for example. Clearly the editorial pen was doing something else at this point...

Anyway - I read the book a few years back and liked it, although I was left a bit puzzled by the lack of resolution. The central character was interesting, but I wasn't convinced by his 'Parthian' background or strange hat (if I'm thinking of the right book...) What really stuck in my mind was the trek through the desert, and the method of exploding rocks using water - taken from Pliny, I think.
Nathan Ross
Ha! I can't get my wretched novel AWAY from my editor!!

Hopefully this year, though Smile
Moi Watson

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Merlot in one hand, Cigar in the other; body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming "WOO HOO, what a ride!
I have loved 'The Eagle in Snow' since I first borrowed a copy from the local Library as a kid. I still do in spite of the massive spoiler regarding the narrator and the obvious lack of references to the late Roman army. One could almost imagine a movie based on the book going down the same route with the typical attempt to portray the classic Roman legionary look.

Therefore I too bought 'The Legate's Daughter' when it became available post 'Gladiator' and also because of the fantastic cover. When I read it, I was waiting for it to get going and waited and waited and then realised suddenly that I had finished it.

It is amazing how two novels by the same author could be so different.

"Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream" Edgar Allan Poe.

"Every brush-stroke is torn from my body" The Rebel, Tony Hancock.

"..I sweated in that damn dirty armor....TWENTY YEARS!', Charlton Heston, The Warlord.
Thank you for the review Ben.

I have not read a vast number of historical fiction novels. However, I have to say that the ones I did pick up left me feeling very disappointed - clumsy, awkward prose, one-dimensional characters etc. Honestly speaking I found that to be true even for some of the more highly acclaimed authors.

Al that changed when I discovered Steven Pressfield a few years ago and this year finally read EITS. Needless to say, the latter has become one of my favorite books of all time, of any genre. I finished it at the beginning of this year and am itching to read it again - I can't remember the last book which really made me feel like that!

So again, thank you for the recommendations. I will now definitely check out those three other novels you mentioned while probably foregoing The Legate's Daughter for the meantime.

Btw, may I ask if you - or anybody else - has read Alfred Duggan's Winter Quarters and if so, what you thought of it?

Although it has been awhile I remember Winter Quarters by Alfred Duggan which was about two Gallic nobles from the Pyrenees area who having a knowledge of horses which the Romans found useful, joined the Roman army in Gaul, ended up joining Crassus's army in Rome befriending a Greek & then travelled with the army to Greece then through Asia Minor and ending up at the fleshpots of Antioch in Syria, their tragic march to war against the Parthians and Surena's mounted (Saka?) archers & cataphracts and how after the destruction of Crassus's army, a few Roman survivors ended up as mercenaries fighting for the Parthians against the Huns while based in Margiana. I enjoyed the book, Duggan seemed to have an understanding of the Roman army & how the Gauls & Greeks viewed the Romans in general. But I am a bit biased on the subject of Carrhae and enjoy books dealing with the defeat & destruction of Crassus & his army and what may have happened to the survivors of his defeated army. Authors like Ben Kane with his Forgotten Legion trilogy about the adventures of some survivors of the battle of Carrhae seeking to return home, H. Warner Munn's The Lost Legion, covering a similar theme but is a fictional tale about an entire legion sent by Caligula for punishment on a suicide mission to find out what happened to the army of Crassus (a bit late I feel) & Dean J Carter's The Western Dragon which was supposed to be part 1 of a trilogy about a Roman Centurion who ends up as a mercenary general in the Han Chinese army after the defeat of the Roman army at Carrhae. Quite funny in some parts of the book where after trying noodles for the first time he tells a Chinese comrade how noodles would be a hit amongst his Italian comrades in the Roman army. However I have seen no subsequent sequels on his original book written in 2008 which is a shame. But Winter Quarters is not a bad read except you know what happened to the main protagonist as the book starts off with him as a mercenary on the Sea of Grass near Margiana, mulling over his fate & how he angered some goddess & then he relates to the reader how he got to his current predicament. Confusedmile:
Michael Kerr
Michael Kerr
"You can conquer an empire from the back of a horse but you can't rule it from one"
Thanks Michael. I will certainly check out those titles you mentioned.

Yes, the fate of the Roman survivors of Carrhae seems to be one of those things which has always captured people's imaginations. I'm not an expert on the subject so can I just clarify something - the 'China legend', although very romantic I'm sure, is not considered a serious or plausible theory...right?
Right, Professor Homer Dubs was an American born Sinologist who believed that Roman survivors of Carrhae fought as mercenaries for Xiong-nu leader Chih-Chih who was defeated and killed by Chinese General Chen-Tang in 36BC . Most notable to Dubs was how Chen-Tang described in his field journal that more than a hundred foot soldiers fighting for Chih-Chih, who was besieged by the Han in an unnamed Central Asian fort or town lined up on either side of the gate of the fort/town with linked shields in a fish-scale formation which Dubs surmised as Testudio which the Chinese had never seen before, Chen-Tang also mentioned that the town/fort was surrounded byan earthen wall with a double palisade of wood which Dubs stated was a standard feature of Roman fortification and not used by Xiong-nu or the Han. The survivors of the siege were taken east and posted as mercenaries and built a town near the great wall called Li-jien, which was the ancient Chinese word for Rome or so the story goes. While there may have been western mercenaries fighting for Chih-Chih they could have been Bactrian Greeks and there is no evidence that Romans ever fought there but who knows like you said, something that captures people's imagination. Chen-Tang was known by later Chinese writers to have a vivid imagination and used his descriptive reports to rise in Han circles and because he disobeyed the emperor's orders, as the emperor was all for appeasement, by organizing an army, made up of conscripts and allies (Wusun & Kang-ju) and attacking Chih-Chih while he was holed up in his fortress, he may have made the victory sound more exciting and fantastic than it really was to save his own skin and justifiy the attack or so Dubs believed. But apart from some photos of very western looking Chinese from around the supposed region of Li-jien, and these could very well have been of Greek or Sarmatian/Alan/Iranic heritage or descent there isn't much credence to Dubs theory. There is a book called Black Horse Odyssey by Australian author David Harris which describes his attempts to look for evidence in which he states the Chinese authorities constantly stonewalled his attempts to find answers. Still a good read even if evidence is pretty slim. George Rawlinson in his book about the Parthians in The Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 6: Parthia sort of lines up with Duggan's fictional story or Duggan used Rawlinson's theory for his story, however it was written in 19th century so is pretty dated, Rawlinson mentions that a large group of Roman survivors, some now married to Parthian women were sent, with their families by the Parthians to Margiana to guard Parthia's eastern borders, well away from the Roman border in the west but I doubt that they became mercenaries fighting for the Xiong-nu against the Han. But it would make a great movie, I feel. :grin:
Michael Kerr
Michael Kerr
"You can conquer an empire from the back of a horse but you can't rule it from one"

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