Twilight of Empire: War at the Edge of the World
Aurelius Castus has worked his way up through the ranks of the Roman army – facing death and hardship – to become a Centurion, and is proud of it. Sympathetic yet soldier through and through, he works his troopers hard and never involves himself in politics. His job is as a warrior and to train his men to be warriors. He goes where he is ordered. From the Danube to North Africa to Britain, he is sent because that’s his job.
The King of the Picts, the wild barbarians “across the Wall”, has died in mysterious circumstances After being quiet and subdued for a while, the Picts might choose a leader who wants to strike at the Roman garrisons, as a show of strength. While Rome preserves its military supremacy, the government is in flux and can do without any barbarian uprising, however unsuccessful it may be. So Centurion Castus is to take his century as an honour guard to an emissary who, while Roman, has superior experience and ability. The emissary has been “invited” to observe the crowning of a new King and, while he has little influence, there are messages being sent.
What results is a desperate struggle for Castus to do his duty. He falls foul of politics (which he despises) and is tested in his loyalty to the army and the Empire that he is pledged to serve.
The novel is excellently written, with sensitivity to the “soldier’s lot”. Ross has taken a story of an honest and honourable soldier of a waning Empire, given us an exciting adventure and made us consider the small personalities in the large events.