The Sword of Hannibal
Hannibal and his armies are preparing to cross the Alps, but this only serves as the background for the main story, how a talented mercenary named Strabo comes to be part of a wandering tribe of Asturian horse trainers who are pretending to help the Carthaginians in order to rescue a captive princess. Their leader is slyer than Ulysses, and needs to be, because only two of the band are trained as soldiers. There is no shortage of bloodshed; the reader is treated to a severed leg before the third turn of the page, and Strabo’s sword runs through one stomach before another victim’s clean-cut head hits the floor. The author precedes one particularly improbable sequence with the adverb “impossibly,” as if to confess having gone too far. The band draws its strength from its refusal to leave any member behind, even a dead body, a characteristic of some of the most elite military forces throughout history. In between action sequences, Strabo learns to bond with the members of the group, particularly the horse he has difficulty riding and the woman who initially dislikes him.
The closest thing to an afterword called itself a glossary, really just a list of weights and measures. When I used it to check some weights, I found that one of the pankrators weighed nearly nine hundred pounds, and the heroine was pushing three hundred. There was enough history in the novel to provide some explanation of how the events fit in with recorded events, but more explanation, as would be presented in an afterword, is probably too much to expect from a mass-market paperback.