Total War Rome: Destroy Carthage

Written by David Gibbins
Review by Gordon O'Sullivan

Carthago delenda est, Carthage must be destroyed. These words resound throughout this novel of Scipio Aemilianus, adopted grandson of the famous Scipio Africanus and his steadfast protector and friend, Fabius Petronius Secundus, and give them their motivation in life. Through their eyes the reader sees one of the great Roman figures coming to manhood and witnesses his gradual and seeming divinely-inspired rise to power from his first blooding against the Macedonians to the climactic siege and final destruction of Rome’s most hated rival, Carthage.

Inspired by Total War: Rome II, part of the bestselling Total War PC game series, Destroy Carthage is the first in a series of novels from David Gibbins. The author brings the historical and archaeological big guns to bear in this military historical novel, using intriguing historical detail to construct a firmly authentic feel to the novel’s descriptions of cities and battles.

Yet too often Destroy Carthage seems to end up in a historical fiction no man’s land where there is too much explication and too little narrative drive. Story progress is often forestalled by lengthy and didactic discussions between the characters on tactics or politics, just at the point when the reader is primed for action. While the main two characters of Scipio and Fabius are front and centre, their narrative journey seems to be of less interest to Gibbins than Roman strategy and technology, putting the story at one remove from the reader.

This is a fascinating period of Roman history, and while the author provides some very interesting insights into the Roman character and martial mind he doesn’t put them at the service of the story.