Southern Spain in the 1st century BC. Melqart and his family live in the prosperous town of Munda under a benign Roman procurator. In the surrounding mountains, the Kemeletoi, a mysterious ancient tribe, live in harmony with the townsmen. Although isolated, Munda cannot escape Roman politics and the ambitions of Julius Caesar. When the sons of his rival, Pompey, take refuge in the valley, Caesar and his army pursue them. Munda’s peace is shattered and its citizens are taken to Rome as slaves. Melqart, no warrior but gifted with an inventive mind, must call on all his courage and skill to rescue his enslaved family and to liberate Munda. His adventures carry him from Spain to North Africa to Sicily.
Forrest is good on landscape, especially on southern Spain, which is lovingly described. Melqart makes an unusual but attractive hero, resolute even when scared half to death and maturing as the novel progresses. Forrest brings the Mediterranean world and its various peoples alive. Daily life and that of the soldier are well-depicted; casual cruelty and torture are balanced by a strong sense of nature worship and mysticism. The complicated battle scenes are particularly excellent and easy to follow.
But Libertas is a good read: pacy, exciting and often funny. Forrest makes us care about Munda. He captures the tragedy of a people dragged into the horror of a vicious war brought about by circumstances over which they had no control and could hardly understand. And three cheers for Quaestor2000 for supporting off-beat historical fiction.
[This review has been edited to remove references to content not in the final published book.]