Review: Rome 03: The Eagle of the Twelfth by M.C. Scott

Book info:

Form: hardback

Genre: historical fiction (ancient Roman Empire)
Target audience: adults
Synopsis:
Demalion of Macedon accompanies Sebastos Panthera, a Roman spy, to Parthia but their mission is soon concluded. Then he is made to join the Twelfth Legion, notorious for its ill fortune, always facing the harshest of postings, the toughest of campaigns, the most vicious of opponents. Additionally, the Legion is also given a very bad, inexperienced commander – a politician not a soldier.

However, amid all of the violence and savagery of his life as a legionary, Demalion realizes he has discovered a vocation – as a soldier and a leader of men. He is made a centurion and has come to love the Twelfth and all the bloody-minded, dark-hearted soldiers he calls his brothers. One of them, a young, beautiful Greek called Heraclides with a nickname of Tears, becomes even somebody closer than that.

When Demalion thinks he has found a place in the world, all that he cares about is ripped from him. First his Legion is defeated by the Parthians due to the supreme ignorance and ineptitude of his commander – they have to retreat in shame, just happy to be alive. Then they are ordered to quench the brutal Judaean uprising and  the Hebrew army inflicts humiliating defeat upon the legion – not only decimating their ranks, but taking away their soul, the eagle, the symbol of their pride and identity.

There is one final chance to save the legion’s honour – to steal back the eagle. To do that, Demalion and his fellow legionary scout called Horgias must go undercover into Jerusalem, into the very heart of their enemy – where discovery will mean the worst of deaths. Will they survive a mission which resembles very closely a suicide?

What I liked:
I haven’t read a good historical fiction set in the times of Roman Empire for a long time so when awesome Mel from Mel’s Random Reviews sent me this one I was overjoyed. It is  the thrid and final installment of a series but you can read it as a standalone without any problems. I found it original and interesting mainly because it depicts Roman wars with Parthia, a relatively less known campaing which took place in the first century A.D. during the reign of Nero. Well, I suppose most of people have heard of Nero, his poems and antics which led to the burning of Rome and persecution of first Christians, but few heard about his wars.
Parthia roughly corresponds to the western half of Khorasan region in northeastern Iran. It bordered Media on the west, Hyrcania on the north west, Margiana on the north east, and Aria on the south east. I really enjoyed the fact that it was a completely new setting, as far from Rome and Nero’s corrupt court as it could only be.
A centurion of Roman army
Most of the action is described directly from Demalions’s perspective and there is a real sense that he is right in the midst of these frenetic, bloody encounters. I was really surprised when I found out that the author is actually a woman – Scott perfectly captures the chaos of each engagement as well as the emotions that a soldier must have experienced. Demalion’s attitudes toward constant training and bloodshed evolve and he becomes far more comfortable on the battlefield. The initial fear of being in a life threatening situation never disappears but he also learns the raw elation of surviving. After a while he feels most alive when surrounded by chaos of the battle and death.The relationships between soldiers are tight and any losses are horrible.
I also liked very much the character of Sebastos Abdes Pantera, also called the Leopard. He was a spy extraordinaire who never revealed more than he should about himself and his missions, often surprising poor Demalion and not always in a good way but also arousing grudging respect. I really regretted we weren’t shown the whole world from his POV at least once. In fact I would be perfectly happy if Pantera was given a series on his own. For him I might read the first two parts which, as far as I know, tell his previous adventures as a spy and pupil of Seneca.
What I didn’t like:
The whole novel is set among the Roman soldiers; I certainly understand that there weren’t many places for women in such a company but really in this book there is only ONE female character, Hypatia, introduced very late, in the second part of the book, and never properly presented, acting as a prop. I am really disappointed. 
Apart from that I wish I could find out more about the final fate of Pantera.
Final verdict:

If you like really good historical fiction books I recommend you this one. It captures not just the epic scale of Rome’s legions, but its core, its heart, its very essence;  it strives to show what made the men behind the armour tick. It is also a page-turning military history but notably without women.

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10 Responses to Review: Rome 03: The Eagle of the Twelfth by M.C. Scott

  1. Only one female character? UHG.I do love novels set in Rome, but they're not that common! I read a very good mystery set there years ago, I wish I could remember what it was called.

  2. Blodeuedd says:

    One female..yeah, wow! A lot *snorts*

  3. Yeah. One would think there were at least some camp followers and prostitutes near any Roman military camp. Not to mention the fact that some soldiers of higher rank did have families.

  4. Oh do remind yourself, pretty please!

  5. blodeuedd says:

    I can't believe I am saying this but yes where are the whores?

  6. Apparently everybody was gay.;p

  7. Ooooooooooh. Sounds rather good.

  8. They have no choice! There is only one female.

  9. rameau says:

    Sounds like my kind of book.

  10. lol perhaps you are right. One female, armies of men…poor thing…

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