270 AD. Queen Zenobia of Palmyra has turned on her erstwhile master, Rome. She has sent her armies across Arabia, Egypt, and Syria to sweep away the weakened Roman forces. Antioch now stands exposed, with only the small garrison at the fort of Alauran standing in her armies’ path.
Cassius Corbulo is new to the Roman ranks. He’s the privileged son of a noble family, untested, unbloodied, and ill-prepared. Nevertheless, his rank in the secret service—agents derisively known as the grain men—qualifies him to act as a centurion, and he is sent off with only his Gallic servant to organize the fort’s defense and hold off Zenobia’s forces until more troops can be brought forward.
Brown has given this Roman military/adventure story a great twist in having Cassius hail from the secret service ranks. These men, part bureaucrat and part secret police, were answerable to the emperor himself, and were despised by Roman soldiers. Much more than a simple military story, The Siege is also a character study and offers a rare glimpse into 3rd century Rome and her occupation of Syria. I enjoyed watching Cassius’ growth as he met with myriad challenges, and I appreciated that the carnage didn’t set in until the last third of the book, though I enjoyed the battle, which was worthy of Scarrow and Sidebottom, even if smaller in scale.
The Siege is book one of Brown’s new Agent of Rome series, and I look forward to the next installment.