Agent of Rome: The Siege

Written by Nick Brown
Review by Martin Bourne

Its eastern provinces are being gobbled up by the aggressive (and suspiciously Arabesque) Palmyrans, and the Roman Empire, shown as rather decadent, seems incapable of stopping them. Flushed with easy success, the Palmyrans will seal total victory by seizing the key garrison town of Antioch. Both armies need the deep well at Roman-held Alauran to campaign effectively in the area. The only Roman commander available is Cassius Corbulo, an officer candidate so inept at the physical side of soldiering that he was palmed off to the ill thought of Imperial Security Service before completing his training.

Alauran turns out to be a dilapidated fort manned by a motley collection of undisciplined legionaries and native auxiliaries. Worse yet, there is a spy in the camp. So, can the unlikely hero Cassius somehow hold the fort until reinforcements arrive?

The “underdogs re-finding themselves through fighting overwhelming odds” plot is as old as the hills, and for good reason – it makes for drama that works at just about every level. Unfortunately, this example isn’t realised very well. There isn’t enough description, of either the surroundings or the characters, and what there is, is very unfocused. This makes it hard to follow what is happening, and even harder to care about whom it is happening to. The storyline is developed too slowly, and the sub-plots are wasted with trivial resolutions.

The realistic fight scenes compensate a little. In most novels and films you wonder why anyone bothers to wear armour, but in this book the stuff actually works! Soldiers get wounded (admittedly often nastily) more than killed, and everyone gets scared. Really though, these are scant rewards for your time investment.