Give Me Back My Legions!

Written by Harry Turtledove
Review by Caitlin Higgins

Quinctilius Varus is not a natural soldier. But no upper-class Roman can refuse the wishes of the Emperor Augustus, and so when the emperor sends Varus north to bring Germany under Roman control, Varus dutifully goes.

In Germany, Roman and German soldiers alike view the other side with fear, hatred, and grudging respect. Although the two sides seem to be at a stalemate, both Varus and Arminius, the cultured son of a German chieftain, realize that Germany is slowly but steadily becoming Romanized. The difference is that Varus wants to accelerate this process, while Arminius secretly is determined to keep his people independent. Through guile, Arminius gains the confidence and friendship of Varus and leads him into an ambush that destroys three full Roman legions and ends Augustus’ hopes of a Romanized Germany.

Harry Turtledove does an excellent job contrasting the cultural differences of the Romans and the Germans, in everything from their views on sexuality to their methods of farming. Historical details are presented for the most part organically (for instance, Arminius studies Roman customs and military tactics to better fool Varus and defeat the Romans). Turtledove also balances well the two main characters. Varus and Arminius are sympathetic but flawed: Varus is fair but foolish, Arminius is brave but lacks empathy. However, Arminius’ deception is too prolonged. Although at the start of the novel Arminius’ hidden motives help to create an effective ominous tone, the middle of the novel drags from a lack of conflict. As a result the climax seems rather abrupt. Overall, an interesting read, but not an outstanding one.