Warrior of Rome, Part One: Fire in the East
Fire in the East is part one of Dr. Harry Sidebottom’s Warrior of Rome series and his first novel. He is a leading authority on ancient warfare, and the impressive appendix contains the historical details which are required reading in tandem with the unfolding story.
In the third century AD, the Roman Empire is in turmoil as civil war tears Italy apart and emperor follows emperor in rapid succession. Out of the darkness comes a barbarian, Ballista, prince of his tribe and diplomatic hostage. Seventeen years pass and in 255 AD the Persian Sassanid Empire attacks Rome’s eastern territories, sweeping all before them. Ballista, now a citizen and sometime imperial favourite, is newly appointed to the post of Dux Ripae. In charge of the defences along the banks of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates and all the land between, he is empowered to hold this very edge of Empire.
The novel is a master class in ancient warfare. Vast amounts of actual historical information are expended and one wonders how much is left for the remainder of the series. The story is skilfully constructed, harrowing at times with an imaginative scope. The clarity of observation of the minutiae of war and period detail reveals the author’s command of his subject. His characters, mostly male, are well defined and realistic and illuminate the different nationalities and passions prevalent in the empire at that time. Women play little part: the wife left behind and the feisty but tempting brigand’s daughter.
This is a riveting book, the dominating feature being a city under siege. Dr. Sidebottom generously acknowledges the debt owed to past historical novelists who have influenced him. The reader feels confident in the historical accuracy, but whether Warrior of Rome will become the mighty series that is envisaged remains in the gift of historical fiction fans.