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Fire in the East

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'WAR IS HELL . . . ' The year is AD 255 - the Roman Imperium is stretched to breaking point, its authority and might challenged along every border. The greatest threat lies in Persia to the east, where the massing forces of the Sassanid Empire loom with fiery menace. There the isolated Roman citadel of Arete awaits inevitable invasion. One man is sent to marshal the defences 'WAR IS HELL . . . ' The year is AD 255 - the Roman Imperium is stretched to breaking point, its authority and might challenged along every border. The greatest threat lies in Persia to the east, where the massing forces of the Sassanid Empire loom with fiery menace. There the isolated Roman citadel of Arete awaits inevitable invasion. One man is sent to marshal the defences and shore up crumbling walls. A man whose name itself means war: a man called Ballista. Alone, Ballista is called to muster the forces, and the courage to stand first and to stand hard, against the greatest enemy ever to confront the Imperium. This is part one of WARRIOR OF ROME: an epic of empire, of heroes, of treachery, of courage, and most of all, a story of brutal, bloody warfare.

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'WAR IS HELL . . . ' The year is AD 255 - the Roman Imperium is stretched to breaking point, its authority and might challenged along every border. The greatest threat lies in Persia to the east, where the massing forces of the Sassanid Empire loom with fiery menace. There the isolated Roman citadel of Arete awaits inevitable invasion. One man is sent to marshal the defences 'WAR IS HELL . . . ' The year is AD 255 - the Roman Imperium is stretched to breaking point, its authority and might challenged along every border. The greatest threat lies in Persia to the east, where the massing forces of the Sassanid Empire loom with fiery menace. There the isolated Roman citadel of Arete awaits inevitable invasion. One man is sent to marshal the defences and shore up crumbling walls. A man whose name itself means war: a man called Ballista. Alone, Ballista is called to muster the forces, and the courage to stand first and to stand hard, against the greatest enemy ever to confront the Imperium. This is part one of WARRIOR OF ROME: an epic of empire, of heroes, of treachery, of courage, and most of all, a story of brutal, bloody warfare.

30 review for Fire in the East

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mr. Matt

    Fire in the East is the story of Marcus Clodius Ballista, a Roman commander who is sent to the frontier with the aggressive Sassanid Persan Empire. He is to hold things together in the East while the Emperors deal with troubles along the Rhine and the Danube. If he dies in the process, well, too bad. As a German, he is expendable. The book starts slow. Super duper slow. I struggled to get invested in the story. Far too much time is spent on the journey from Rome to the distant town of Arete. And Fire in the East is the story of Marcus Clodius Ballista, a Roman commander who is sent to the frontier with the aggressive Sassanid Persan Empire. He is to hold things together in the East while the Emperors deal with troubles along the Rhine and the Danube. If he dies in the process, well, too bad. As a German, he is expendable. The book starts slow. Super duper slow. I struggled to get invested in the story. Far too much time is spent on the journey from Rome to the distant town of Arete. And the characters are dry and uninteresting. I felt as if I was reading about things that happened a long time ago rather than experiencing them. At times I found myself wondering why I was even reading the darn book! That's not a good sign. Fortunately, the book warms up. When the Persians show up with their massive army and the siege of Arete actually begins, I was hooked. For several long months - most of a year - Ballista and his small band of legionnaires hold off 50,000 determined Persians. There are ferocious battles at the wall. There are artillery duels. There is treachery. There are desperate last stands. And throughout it, I found myself (at last) really pulling for the beleaguered German. The Roman nobles treat him with contempt (he's a Barbarian) but he faithfully exercises his duties as a Roman (which is more than can be said for some of the nobles). I also learned a lot. In part I read historical fiction partly to learn about points in history that were less familiar to me. And this book illuminated a period that was dark for me. Most Roman stories seem to involve the period from Ceasar to Augustus to Claudius. The Empire is young and vigorous. It is growing, expanding. This book takes place much later in the Empire's life. The Empire, while still strong, is troubled. Franks, Goths and other peoples threaten the borders. Worse threat yet, in the East, are the Sassanids. Civilized, organized and fueled by the righteous power of Zoroastrianism, the Persians seek to push into Asia Minor. It was neat to read about this period. It offered me a fresh perspective. All said and done, it started out as a II star book and ends as a IV star book, so I'll split the difference. III stars out of V.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    I came to this from the author's excellent Throne of the Caesars series. As a first book in this series, a lot of it was introduction to the characters, time and place, although we've met Ballista before. Years have passed since the death of Maximinus Thrax and Aquileia; this story places us in the reign of Valerian, years later. Ballista strikes me as an "outsider" who struggles to fit in, much as the characters of Gillian Bradshaw. Sadly, his barbarian origin leads others to underestimate him. I came to this from the author's excellent Throne of the Caesars series. As a first book in this series, a lot of it was introduction to the characters, time and place, although we've met Ballista before. Years have passed since the death of Maximinus Thrax and Aquileia; this story places us in the reign of Valerian, years later. Ballista strikes me as an "outsider" who struggles to fit in, much as the characters of Gillian Bradshaw. Sadly, his barbarian origin leads others to underestimate him. Perusing the list of characters and recognizing some names from Throne of the Caesars, I wondered: are these the same people, but a few years on? Not much originality in the cover: the same ubiquitous Roman soldier. Can't any publisher come up with something more creative and striking for Roman military novels???? I've seen other people's reviews and many complaints about how slowly the book begins, with many details of excruciating [to them] detail. Sometimes I enjoy a slow-burner--pun, based on the title :) -- with all the asides and tidbits of details. I didn't read the novel for the siege only, but enjoyed the journey to get to Arete and of course the final siege and conflagration. Arete lay very close to the Roman/Persian border. Ballista has been given orders by the emperor to prepare defenses and finally to defend the city from the Sassanid Persians. He can ask for extra troops from other cities and levy citizens. The emperor promises to send reinforcements. There were many exciting incidents: a storm at sea, fight with Gothic pirates, then various skirmishes, extramural missions and the final siege and its aftermath. Someone is a traitor. Near the end Ballista muses: Is [the outcome] my fault? Did I concentrate so much on the Sassanid siege works that I did not pay enough attention to the possibility of treachery? ... would clues have been there? Would I have seen them? The first time through I read it solely for the adventure but when I reread I concentrated more on some of the loose ends, motivations I feel the author didn't explain. Who killed Scribonius Mucianus and why? One culprit or two? What was the blackmail surrounding Turpio, which he didn't explain and Ballista never pushed? Who sabotaged the armory? What was Acilius Glabrio's motivation in giving the perfume for Ballista's bath since the two hated each other? I feel there were genuine but subtle clues, also red herrings. I do have my suspicions, but.... I felt like the city of Arete was a thinly-disguised Dura-Europos: http://dura-europos.com/ put into a fictional context. In the author's notes, he states he DID base his fictional city on it. I felt like this novel was several cuts above any Roman potboilers flooding the market, due to the construction of the story and the author's impeccable historicity. This novel joins my list of Quality Roman fiction. The Ballista name was silly, but there WAS a historical Ballista. I'm eager to follow his character development. Most highly recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Gordon Doherty

    This is an enjoyable tale once it gets going. I'm a big fan of the later, less-than-invincible Roman Empire, and this is set in just that era, with Dux Ballista being sent with a weak straggle of poorly-trained legionaries and auxilliaries to defend a sand-swept city far to the east against the might of the Sassanid army. The whole siege/bunker mentality really gets you onside with the protagonists. Harry Sidebottom has gone to extreme lengths to ensure that the minutae of life in this time perio This is an enjoyable tale once it gets going. I'm a big fan of the later, less-than-invincible Roman Empire, and this is set in just that era, with Dux Ballista being sent with a weak straggle of poorly-trained legionaries and auxilliaries to defend a sand-swept city far to the east against the might of the Sassanid army. The whole siege/bunker mentality really gets you onside with the protagonists. Harry Sidebottom has gone to extreme lengths to ensure that the minutae of life in this time period are described to a tee, embellishing Ballista's time in Arete vividly. This is something of a double-edged sword; I do feel that a good historical novel should balance historical detail with exposition and action. In FitE, the historical detail was rich and informative but detrimental to the flow of the story at times. Pacing was another thing that took a star off for me. I was looking forward to the clash between the Sassanids and the Romans, but it took a long time to come (over two thirds of the book) and this slackened the tension. Also, there were possibly a handful too many characters, but in saying that, the author handily provided a character glossary at the back - it's just that sometimes it interrupted the flow of the story when you had to work out who was doing what. I'll be trying the next in the series, as I feel there is a lot more depth to be mined from the character of Ballista, especially the dark nightmare that haunts him - I love that side of a character!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Wooding

    Wow! This was all action from page one and yet somehow managed to keep building and delivering more. There are a lot of 'Roman' terms used which adds an extra authenticity and although the author does a good job of explaining what these mean I found it got a little overwhelming and confusing at times, particular when it came to the military terms. However, this shouldn't be enough to prevent anyone from reading the book. If you have even the smallest interest in Roman history I couldn't recommen Wow! This was all action from page one and yet somehow managed to keep building and delivering more. There are a lot of 'Roman' terms used which adds an extra authenticity and although the author does a good job of explaining what these mean I found it got a little overwhelming and confusing at times, particular when it came to the military terms. However, this shouldn't be enough to prevent anyone from reading the book. If you have even the smallest interest in Roman history I couldn't recommend this book enough. I have already started the next book in the series.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Natasa

    It is a good novel. It show’s Roman warfare in brilliant detail and is a good insight into that part of the Roman world. The story is good as well it’s not the most amazing story in the world, but it’s still kept me interested and has a mystery, through the story and leaves with another mystery at the end. 

  6. 4 out of 5

    D.w.

    There were two things wrong with this book in my opinion as I review it, yet I gave it 4 stars? Well, the first thing was that the pacing was slow. Slow. Slow. It took me a good deal of time to get into it, and the siege (Not a spoiler, you know that Ballista, our hero, is taking his command to prepare the city of Arete for a siege. Yet that is foretelling, and that is the second troublesome problem with the book. (Now there be spoilers ahead...) Here we have a doomed city. They are outnumbered 2 There were two things wrong with this book in my opinion as I review it, yet I gave it 4 stars? Well, the first thing was that the pacing was slow. Slow. Slow. It took me a good deal of time to get into it, and the siege (Not a spoiler, you know that Ballista, our hero, is taking his command to prepare the city of Arete for a siege. Yet that is foretelling, and that is the second troublesome problem with the book. (Now there be spoilers ahead...) Here we have a doomed city. They are outnumbered 20 to 1, if not more. And even Sun Tzu says have 10 times the number of your opponents if you are sieging them. Here despite those numbers we place our hero and his comrades in the center of it all. Well we know that at Rorke's Drift a superior trained force can survive such numbers. Yet the Persians and the Zulus are not quite the same level of disadvantage against the Romans as the Zulus against the British. Yet they somehow win! Yes, that's right the Roman's survive, and the action in the later half of the book, as the noose tightens is well worth the trouble. But, foretelling as I mentioned is terrible. When Ballista says double the guard after the victory and the subplot about a traitor not having been resolved, the writing is on the walls and in the book. They are going to be betrayed somehow and the Persians are going to take them. Perhaps this is the device Sidebottom has come up with to get us to the next book, but as Jack said to Hook, "Bad Form!" I as a reader feel betrayed (That is why no five stars, that and the slow start) I read the book to the end, got all happy that we survived and then the thousands of people saved, the hundreds of Romans who survived, all wiped out for a plot device. A twist that even in foretelling, should have been taken care of. We doubled the guard! The alarm should have been given! Yet only enough for Ballista and a handful to escape. A set up for Ballista to realize that he was a pawn to the Co-Emperors need for legions elsewhere in the empire. Yet still, the empire would have more resources to help, and then, they did win. If they were going to be pawned out this way, they did not need to survive the worst of the siege to do so. (And if it has a great deal of political, and Roman intrigue, we needed more of that instead of being introduced to a few spies at the beginning and then the realization of the protagonist at the end.) Get past the slow and boring beginning, enjoy all the action of the second half, and hope that Sidebottom can build a better book in the rest of the series.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

    I am left with a distinct feeling of ambivalence about this book. I have neither praise nor censure to bestow upon it. Which could be it's main issue in my eyes, it did not induce any emotion from me. Not to love or hate, not to recommend or malign it. I did find a great quote because of it though. From the Roman senator and historian, Tacitus; from his book, The Agricola: When I reflect on the causes of the war, and the circumstances of our situation, I feel a strong persuasion that our united I am left with a distinct feeling of ambivalence about this book. I have neither praise nor censure to bestow upon it. Which could be it's main issue in my eyes, it did not induce any emotion from me. Not to love or hate, not to recommend or malign it. I did find a great quote because of it though. From the Roman senator and historian, Tacitus; from his book, The Agricola: When I reflect on the causes of the war, and the circumstances of our situation, I feel a strong persuasion that our united efforts on the present day will prove the beginning of universal liberty to Britain. For we are all undebased by slavery; and there is no land behind us, nor does even the sea afford a refuge, whilst the Roman fleet hovers around. Thus the use of arms, which is at all times honorable to the brave, now offers the only safety even to cowards. In all the battles which have yet been fought, with various success, against the Romans, our countrymen may be deemed to have reposed their final hopes and resources in us: for we, the noblest sons of Britain, and therefore stationed in its last recesses, far from the view of servile shores, have preserved even our eyes unpolluted by the contact of subjection. We, at the furthest limits both of land and liberty, have been defended to this day by the remoteness of our situation and of our fame. The extremity of Britain is now disclosed; and whatever is unknown becomes an object of magnitude. But there is no nation beyond us; nothing but waves and rocks, and the still more hostile Romans, whose arrogance we cannot escape by obsequiousness and submission. These plunderers of the world, after exhausting the land by their devastations, are rifling the ocean: stimulated by avarice, if their enemy be rich; by ambition, if poor; unsatiated by the East and by the West: the only people who behold wealth and indigence with equal avidity. To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace. -The Oxford Translation Revised

  8. 5 out of 5

    David Manns

    Sometimes it seems that the supermarket shelves are groaning under the weight of historical novels set during the 'Glory that was Rome'. Sadly many of them are unreadable tosh (yes, Ben Kane, I mean you!). However, Harry Sidebottom is a different proposition altogether. A teacher of classical history at Oxford, Sidebottom knows his stuff, but, more to the point, he can also write. The man knows how to construct a pacey, exciting story and keep it moving. Fire in the East is volume one of the Warri Sometimes it seems that the supermarket shelves are groaning under the weight of historical novels set during the 'Glory that was Rome'. Sadly many of them are unreadable tosh (yes, Ben Kane, I mean you!). However, Harry Sidebottom is a different proposition altogether. A teacher of classical history at Oxford, Sidebottom knows his stuff, but, more to the point, he can also write. The man knows how to construct a pacey, exciting story and keep it moving. Fire in the East is volume one of the Warrior of Rome series, set around AD256, which follows the adventures of Marcus Clodius Ballista, a Germanic diplomatic hostage, who has been granted Roman Citizenship and has served in the Roman Army, rising through the ranks to the point where, at the start of the novel, he has been given command of the defence of the City of Arete, on the eastern fringe of the Empire, as the Sassanid hoardes under the King of Kings, Shapur, threaten to capture it and drive Rome from Aasia Minor. Ballista is a complex character and Sidebottom explains his motivations and anxieties well as he deals with shoddy and resentful troops and arrogant, aristocratic officers. There is intrigue aplenty, as the Emporer's spies keep an eye on Ballista and somewhere a traitor threatens to undermine the defence of the city. Sidebottom stocks the story with a large cast of characters and there is humour here as well as exciting action set-pieces as the siege of the city gets underway. The author never flinches from showing us the harsh sacrifices a supreme commander must make in order to achieve the task he has been set. The reveal at the end is well handled and overall this is a great read, based on sound knowledge of the era and a true love of the subject matter. The next volume beckons. Recommended.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Beorn

    This is definately more of a slow burner than other Roman period novels I've read so far. There's none of the instant magnetism of Conn Iggulden or the earthy empathy & humanity of Ben Kane. It was this that initially led me to think that I'd be overall disappointed with this book, but as I've progressed further into the deep recesses of it, the more I've realised I'm starting to lap up the pages. I guess the nature of the situation - protagonist heads to far-flung city to defend it against im This is definately more of a slow burner than other Roman period novels I've read so far. There's none of the instant magnetism of Conn Iggulden or the earthy empathy & humanity of Ben Kane. It was this that initially led me to think that I'd be overall disappointed with this book, but as I've progressed further into the deep recesses of it, the more I've realised I'm starting to lap up the pages. I guess the nature of the situation - protagonist heads to far-flung city to defend it against impending attack - is probably most to blame for this slow-burning approach which when you realise that, you can forgive such a slow start. At times it does read somewhat more like how you'd imagine a history documentary to run, complete with explanations of terminology, though with the level of detail it goes into it ends up adding to the appeal gradually. A good addition is the inclusion of a glossary for both characters (both fictional and factual), their roles and geographical places.

  10. 5 out of 5

    The Abibliophobic Guy

    To be honest when I went into this one it was with a hankering for some Historical fiction, but also with slight fear. When a historian turns his hand to fictional writing there is always the danger that it will turn into a lecture, not a story. This however, despite threatening, did not happen. I am pleased with this book and will certainly be coming back to sample more or the series soon. Four Stars. This is the second historical fiction in a Row that has tackled the slightly prickly subject o To be honest when I went into this one it was with a hankering for some Historical fiction, but also with slight fear. When a historian turns his hand to fictional writing there is always the danger that it will turn into a lecture, not a story. This however, despite threatening, did not happen. I am pleased with this book and will certainly be coming back to sample more or the series soon. Four Stars. This is the second historical fiction in a Row that has tackled the slightly prickly subject of Rome in decline. And once again I liked it. Obviously, loving the Roman Empire the way that I do I don't like the fact that they are on the decline, but I do like the fact that it is something not not a lot of authors do and which adds that extra spice of fear to the tale - there is no guarantee of the 'invincible' legionaries winning through. In this case it takes a fictionalised General Ballista (although he is based on a real life cavalry officer apparently *shrugs*) and his campaign to save Acrete. What I love most about this plot was that there was no obtuse sex - there was some pretty lewd references and small acts - and it wasn't all about the combat. This was truly about the whole siege turned into a story, and I loved that - it was real, and it was gritty, and it wasn't pumped up for action-junky teenagers (of which, I admit, I probably am). What's more is...(view spoiler)[ that the Hero finally loses. And that's really interesting to read for once. It wasn't his fault, and if I had one complaint it would be the way the fall was so downplayed (it was if it was a conclusion, not the climactic finale). So while it could have been handled better, I did like the addition. (hide spoiler)] . The characters as well were great. Not going to be winning awards nor were they startling real, but they gave you a real sense of what people from what that period were like. And if Ballista was slightly modernized to appease the reader (bad move) he was still good enough to carry the role with aplomb. I liked them all and can't wait to see what happens next. My one (other complaint) and I alluded to it as the beginning, was the way that it sometimes threatened to become a lecture: with Sidebottom [What a name!] sometimes spending too much time on some fact or other. However, once you got into the book it was easy to over look this. Anyway, should you read this? Yes, if you like Historical fiction then this should be right up there on your to read list. If you are new to this genre then it's not a bad start either, although there are some more *user friendly* books out there. Have Fun Reading.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ed

    I read a Sidebottom, Warrior of Rome Series, book, "Lion of the Sun", a few years ago and enjoyed it immensely. It's #3 in the Warrior of Rome Series. This novel is the first in the series. Ballista is a Germanic Angle of the Suebi Tribes, son of a tribal chief, held as a Roman hostage as a child. He becomes a noted warrior and is dispatched as Dux Ripae by the co-emperors Valerian and Gallienus to protect the citadel city of Arete, on the Eastern edge of the Empire, from a Persian Sassanid inva I read a Sidebottom, Warrior of Rome Series, book, "Lion of the Sun", a few years ago and enjoyed it immensely. It's #3 in the Warrior of Rome Series. This novel is the first in the series. Ballista is a Germanic Angle of the Suebi Tribes, son of a tribal chief, held as a Roman hostage as a child. He becomes a noted warrior and is dispatched as Dux Ripae by the co-emperors Valerian and Gallienus to protect the citadel city of Arete, on the Eastern edge of the Empire, from a Persian Sassanid invasion. He survives the long trip there and discovers that his task is even more difficult than he imagined as the client Kings in the region will not give him any troops. As a result, he and his 1200 soldiers face a massed army of 40 or 50,000 Sassanids. Much of the early part of the book covers his dangerous trip to this outpost on the Euphrates River and the efforts to make the city as impregnable as possible. The last half details the siege and the fighting to keep the Sassanids at bay. Sidebottom does a very good job of describing the details of the fighting, almost up to the standards of Bernard Cornwell. His character development is done very well, also. The problems of maintaining an Empire that is disintegrating is implied as this is the third century AD and the Roman military machine is no longer invincible. I enjoyed this volume as much as I did "Lion of the Sun" and plan to read the rest of the series.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ulff Lehmann

    I bought the novel, wanting to learn a bit about ancient Rome, and given that Mr Sidebottom is a professor for ancient history, and the high star rating I did expect a sensational read... To say my expectations were not met would be an understatement. That Sidebottom is an academician and no story teller is evident from the get go, that his editor didn't demand a significant rewrite speaks either of his own pull or said editor's lack of interest. I'm a fickler for style and substance, and for the I bought the novel, wanting to learn a bit about ancient Rome, and given that Mr Sidebottom is a professor for ancient history, and the high star rating I did expect a sensational read... To say my expectations were not met would be an understatement. That Sidebottom is an academician and no story teller is evident from the get go, that his editor didn't demand a significant rewrite speaks either of his own pull or said editor's lack of interest. I'm a fickler for style and substance, and for the record, the substance is there. Sadly, the style is that of a bored teenager. The narrative gets bogged down by tedious and repetitive sentence structures, with very little time actually given to fleshing out the protagonist. The moment he actually devotes time to Ballista, the protagonist, it actually has hints of potential, which sadly get buried in sudden shifts of perspective and prose that falls flat. I know my expectations are high, I want to enjoy the books I read, and this one is the last novel I actually finished that lost my interest after the first chapter.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alicja

    rating: 3/5 The first half was slow. Oh so very slow. I get that it was a set-up for the rest of the novel (series?) and came along with all the cultural explanations of the vastly culturally diverse Roman empire of the period. But still, damn, I was bored. It also took me a long time to actually come to care about the characters. I was slow to warm up to Ballista, Maximus, Demitrios, Mamura, and others. However, half-way through the book, the siege occurred, action started to pick up, and, once rating: 3/5 The first half was slow. Oh so very slow. I get that it was a set-up for the rest of the novel (series?) and came along with all the cultural explanations of the vastly culturally diverse Roman empire of the period. But still, damn, I was bored. It also took me a long time to actually come to care about the characters. I was slow to warm up to Ballista, Maximus, Demitrios, Mamura, and others. However, half-way through the book, the siege occurred, action started to pick up, and, once the cultural info dumps were over, the characters started to shine through. I started to care about them and the outcome of the siege. I will read the sequel eventually, now that I've come to know the characters and like them, I hope the sequel will pick up at the pace it left off with and a new story rivaling the second half of this one.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Graham

    Warrior of Rome: Fire in the East, the first book in a new series by Oxford scholar Dr Harry Sidebottom, is an unwieldy beast – just as unwieldy as the elephants ridden by the Persian army in this novel. It’s a cliché to say it, but this really is a book of two halves, and the first is by far the worst. It’s a slowly-plotted travelogue exploring ideas and ideologies present in the late Roman Empire, as we follow the unlikely-named Ballista and his men as they take a small force to the Persian ci Warrior of Rome: Fire in the East, the first book in a new series by Oxford scholar Dr Harry Sidebottom, is an unwieldy beast – just as unwieldy as the elephants ridden by the Persian army in this novel. It’s a cliché to say it, but this really is a book of two halves, and the first is by far the worst. It’s a slowly-plotted travelogue exploring ideas and ideologies present in the late Roman Empire, as we follow the unlikely-named Ballista and his men as they take a small force to the Persian city of Arete and there attempt to hold it against the Persian army. Sidebottom’s academic position adds a little to the book but also takes away a great deal from its impact. You can guarantee that realism will be top notch, and that the research gone into the book will all be 100% correct – after all, this is a guy who lives and breathes the era. However, Sidebottom’s unwavering insistence on throwing overwhelming detail about the era into his story is what ultimately makes it a chore to read. The first half is full of this excruciating detail, as if the author can’t resist throwing in every little snippet whether it’s relevant or otherwise. Hence the inclusion of a Greek slave in an otherwise Roman story, just so Sidebottom can delve into Greek mythology and religion. Readers are advised to stick it out, because things DO change. My favourite type of historical novel is the siege story; Sharpe’s Fortress and Dawn of Empire are two books I fondly recall and, in the end, Warrior of Rome: Fire in the East joins their ranks. Yes, this book becomes a great read, if not downright fantastic in places. The latter half of the story is one massive siege scenario as our heroes defend their little town from the massed ranks of the enemies. Every kind of tactic of the period is used, along with small-scale action that throws you into the thick of it. Sidebottom doesn’t shy away from the violence inherent in the era either, so expect strong violence and scenes of repulsive torture along the way. By the time I reached the last fifty pages, I couldn’t put this down; the excitement and danger build to a riveting level. Why, oh why, couldn’t Sidebottom have reached his stride sooner? It matters not. You can safely discount the journey to the town and the preparation once the action kicks in. Ballista is a thinly-sketched barbarian hero, but he has solid support from Maximus (closely modelled on Russell Crowe in Gladiator) and some finely heroic characters like the Roman soldier Antigonus, who wouldn’t be out of place in a David Gemmell story. So, this is a book that starts out badly but regains everything come the thrilling climax. I’d consider reading it again someday, now that I know I can safely skip the extraneous detail without losing anything of the story.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Bou

    When a respected Oxford ancient historian writes historical fiction, you should expect a novel that delivers in terms of actual historic information, accurate descriptions and in general, a convincing historical novel. And in that aspect, Harry Sidebottom really delivers. It is 300 A.D. and the Roman Empire is in turmoil as civil war tears Italy apart and emperor follows emperor in rapid succession. In the novel, the main character is Roman turned Germanic, Ballista, who has risen in the Roman ar When a respected Oxford ancient historian writes historical fiction, you should expect a novel that delivers in terms of actual historic information, accurate descriptions and in general, a convincing historical novel. And in that aspect, Harry Sidebottom really delivers. It is 300 A.D. and the Roman Empire is in turmoil as civil war tears Italy apart and emperor follows emperor in rapid succession. In the novel, the main character is Roman turned Germanic, Ballista, who has risen in the Roman army and is highly accepted in the social hierarchie, but never able to shake off his barbarian roots. He is sent to the east by the emperor, in order to halt the Sassanid offensive. His orders are to hold the city of Arete at all costs and stop the Sassanids in its tracks. The novel is a master class in ancient warfare and siege tactics. A good amount of time is spent on vividly describing the daily life in the city of Arete, the preparations for the siege. When the attacks come, the story really develops into a description that gives a good account of the ancient warfare with stone throwing artillery, hot fluids being poured from the city walls, mining operations and building up ramps to storm the city. The Sassanids storm the city multiple times and every time Ballista manages to defeat them, against terrible odds. The story switches from the main character to various sub characters, each with its own motives. In the city there are various traitors active and even within their own ranks some spies are sending reports back to the emperor. I took a gamble with this book - I more or less snatched this book from the library shelf but in the end was pleasantly suprised. This book is part of a series of 6 books, and I certainly will continue to the second volume as soon as possible.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Deren Kellogg

    In the year 255 AD, Marcus Clodius Ballista, a German serving in the Roman army, is sent to take command of the city of Arete in Syria - the farthest eastern outpost of the Empire. His task is to defend the city against an expected attack by the Sassanid Persians and hold out until relieved by an Imperial field force. To do this, he has only a small detachment of legionnaires, some auxiliaries, and a few mercenary troops. After the siege begins, it becomes evident that there is an unknown traito In the year 255 AD, Marcus Clodius Ballista, a German serving in the Roman army, is sent to take command of the city of Arete in Syria - the farthest eastern outpost of the Empire. His task is to defend the city against an expected attack by the Sassanid Persians and hold out until relieved by an Imperial field force. To do this, he has only a small detachment of legionnaires, some auxiliaries, and a few mercenary troops. After the siege begins, it becomes evident that there is an unknown traitor among the city's leaders, who may be planning to open the gates to the Sassanids. The author of this book is a lecturer of ancient warfare at Oxford and it shows. There is an incredible amount of detail about military life and warfare in the third century Roman empire, and the book is set against real events. Ballista was an actual historical person, though so little is known about him that almost all the details of his life and background are the author's invention. I think Sidebottom does a great job of creating a realistic character out of Ballista. I greatly enjoyed this book. However, this is a highly subjective review. Anyone not interested in ancient warfare or the history of the Roman Empire may find the level of historical detail tiresome. This is the first of a series called "Warrior of Rome" and I am looking forward to reading the next volume, "King of Kings."

  17. 5 out of 5

    Blair Hodgkinson

    Well-written, fast-paced, action-packed and enjoyable with interesting characters. I will read more from this writer.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nimrod Blaser

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I was enjoying this book until the illogical ending. There was just no believable motivation for the villain revealed at the end of the book. Nor, apparently, could the main character believe the motivation. Are there some serious liberties being taken here with the setting? Around this time Christians were being persecuted. The Roman state was not actively hunting them down, but if they were revealed (ie denounced), they would die. https://theconversation.com/mythbusti... So the presence of Chris I was enjoying this book until the illogical ending. There was just no believable motivation for the villain revealed at the end of the book. Nor, apparently, could the main character believe the motivation. Are there some serious liberties being taken here with the setting? Around this time Christians were being persecuted. The Roman state was not actively hunting them down, but if they were revealed (ie denounced), they would die. https://theconversation.com/mythbusti... So the presence of Christians in power and public life is probably incorrect. The big reveal of the Christians as the villains of the entire story with no believable motivation may reveal a case of the author's Christophobia over-ruling their otherwise good sense in story crafting.

  19. 4 out of 5

    M.G. Mason

    Dealing with a period generally untouched in Roman history (due to a considerable lack of scholarly sources from the period) this series from Classical Historian Harry Sidebottom is set during the 3rd century crisis, a period that sees an almost endless supply of Emperors being installed and then deposed. Some 30 years before Diocletian would rise to power and divide the empire into four manageable parts, this novel throws us straight in to a critical time in Roman history. Enter Marcus Clodius Ba Dealing with a period generally untouched in Roman history (due to a considerable lack of scholarly sources from the period) this series from Classical Historian Harry Sidebottom is set during the 3rd century crisis, a period that sees an almost endless supply of Emperors being installed and then deposed. Some 30 years before Diocletian would rise to power and divide the empire into four manageable parts, this novel throws us straight in to a critical time in Roman history. Enter Marcus Clodius Ballista, a Germanic noble who has risen to significance in the imperial army and has been sent to the fictional town of Arete (modelled on Dura-Europos) on the Euphrates to defend against an imminent attack by an enormous Sassanid army. Under-trained, under-funded and at the back end of the empire, it is a battle that Ballista cannot hope to win. For a novel written by a scholar rather than an amateur historian, this book is surprisingly not as heavy as you would expect. Meticulous research can very easily bog down narrative as the writer focuses on the minutiae of weaponry and siege equipment but Sidebottom has carefully crafted his work to be accessible to all levels of readership. I expected this to be as heavy as Conn Iggulden’s fictionalised series about the life of Gaius Julius Caesar but it flows as well as Simon Scarrow’s popular series. A full half of the 390 page novel is taken up with the siege – yes, half – and the story flows seamlessly with each successive assault against the defences of Arete. This novel contains quite possibly the best battle sequences I have ever read. The characters are pretty standard fair. A noble tradesman, his surprisingly emancipated (and irresistibly attractive) daughter whose sword skills match those of her father’s mercenaries, a Greek scribe, a selection of thuggish legionaries, some religious fanatics on both sides and a mysterious traitor that leaves us guessing until the final pages. All pretty standard stuff here and none of them will really jump out at you as being anything different, but it doesn’t really matter. This is about bringing a vague period of history to life and throwing in some amazing battle sequences. A nice touch was they way in which we see Christian cult through the eyes of Ballista. To him, it was something new and alien and we get the sense of confusion that he feels when he meets his first Christian in Arete. If character development and grand sweeping descriptions are your thing then look elsewhere, but if you want flowing narrative and an accurate portrayal of siege warfare in the Roman period, this might very well be for you. See more book reviews at my blog

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ian Langham

    At times I hesitate on reading debut novels. For many reasons ranging from the unfinished to the plain just bad. This however I am glad I picked up and tried it. The main character rather than being some low rank solider in Romes armies is a General. This is a departure from many novels set in Rome where the hero is the lowly but honorable centurion/grunt that I have read. Set in the middle of the 3rd century AD where the best days of the Roman Empire are far behind it. The central character is At times I hesitate on reading debut novels. For many reasons ranging from the unfinished to the plain just bad. This however I am glad I picked up and tried it. The main character rather than being some low rank solider in Romes armies is a General. This is a departure from many novels set in Rome where the hero is the lowly but honorable centurion/grunt that I have read. Set in the middle of the 3rd century AD where the best days of the Roman Empire are far behind it. The central character is a romanised barbarian from Northern Europe (ancestor of the vikings maybe?). As such is considered expendable by those who hold the power in Rome, even though he is of very high military rank. The story it's self starts of a bit slow in my opinion but does not suffer for it. As many other writers start a bad book with a battle scene and goes down hill fast. This however is the other way around. You know there is a major battle(s) coming at some point, especially when the mission given is to protect a far flung (fictional) city. The pace does really pick up in the final third however as the siege begins and action starts to come thick and fast, from fights on the walls to treacherous inhabitants of the aforementioned city. The historical detail the writer packs in can be over whelming at times but I think that is a combination of habit from his day job (Dr at Oxford Uni) and wanting to make the setting as authentic as possible. I guess the real test of is a book any good and worth reading while multi part is very simple. Would I read it again? Yes Would I buy others by this writer in this series and others? Yes to both. Finally and perhaps most important.Did I enjoy it? Yes

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nick Brett

    This is the first in academic Harry Sidebottom's "Ballista" Roman series. Ballista is sent to the far eastern edge of the Roman empire to prepare and defend the Citadel of Arete from the onslaught of Persian forces. So, in a nutshell this is the tale of the journey to Arete, and then the defence of the city where the `barbarian' Ballista has to prove both his credibility and leadership. This is not a fast moving story, those who suggest it is ponderous at times are not far from the truth, perhaps This is the first in academic Harry Sidebottom's "Ballista" Roman series. Ballista is sent to the far eastern edge of the Roman empire to prepare and defend the Citadel of Arete from the onslaught of Persian forces. So, in a nutshell this is the tale of the journey to Arete, and then the defence of the city where the `barbarian' Ballista has to prove both his credibility and leadership. This is not a fast moving story, those who suggest it is ponderous at times are not far from the truth, perhaps the academic inclinations of the author occasionally slow the pace of the novel. So the good points are that the author knows his stuff and the period of history (Rome over-stretched and under pressure) and the siege itself is entertaining once we finally get there. On the down side as previously mentioned, there is a little too much historical `education' and some annoying repetition. For instance soldiers keep repeating "we will do what is ordered and at every command we will be ready" - authentic but tiring when you have read it ten times. Also Ballista has a very chummy relationship with his slaves which felt wrong even given his `barbarian' background and (to me) at odds with the historical accuracy the author seems so keen on. Finally, it has an odd structure, a slow beginning, an interesting middle and then a finish so quick you can blink and miss it. So, slotting in against the many Roman historical actioners out there this was not an easy read and I certainly was not blown away by it. Three stars (just).

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ozymandias

    The best Warrior of Rome novel is undoubtedly the first one. It focuses on the siege of a fictional Mesopotamian city called Arete (meaning virtue or excellence, haha) and based on Dura-Europos in Syria. It conveys very well the feel of the third century AD and the cultural milieu and attitudes of the time. It is in fact, being written by a respected Classicist, one of the most accurate books of its kind. As a big fan of the period, where world-changing events were happening as the empire shifte The best Warrior of Rome novel is undoubtedly the first one. It focuses on the siege of a fictional Mesopotamian city called Arete (meaning virtue or excellence, haha) and based on Dura-Europos in Syria. It conveys very well the feel of the third century AD and the cultural milieu and attitudes of the time. It is in fact, being written by a respected Classicist, one of the most accurate books of its kind. As a big fan of the period, where world-changing events were happening as the empire shifted from a slightly concealed autocracy to a proud and open one that was no longer the undisputed master of all it surveyed, I was very pleased to see such an in-depth take on it. Since we don't have the sources to answer many questions about the culture and personalities of the third century crisis the only way this can be done is through fiction. I've long felt that this is a period ripe for exploration, and this certainly confirms my beliefs. It also works well as a straight adventure novel, with plenty of action and excitement in dangerous situations. Characterization is strong here. It varies from the perpetual outsider Ballista (a Saxon hostage turned Roman general) to his equally foreign bodyguards and more traditional Roman allies. Anyone searching for an exciting sword and sandals story with a heavy dose of realism would be well advised to seek this book out.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    First off, the third century setting makes a change from the usual retreads of Julius Caesar's era. There was plenty going on during the so-called "Third Century Crisis" and it's a wonder more novelists don't utilise all of that drama for novels. Maybe that's because there's so little solid information available about the era, but here, Sidebottom takes some of what is known and weaves an engrossing tale from it. I like that the main character is of Germanic/Angle origin - that makes for some in First off, the third century setting makes a change from the usual retreads of Julius Caesar's era. There was plenty going on during the so-called "Third Century Crisis" and it's a wonder more novelists don't utilise all of that drama for novels. Maybe that's because there's so little solid information available about the era, but here, Sidebottom takes some of what is known and weaves an engrossing tale from it. I like that the main character is of Germanic/Angle origin - that makes for some interesting moments given that even some of his colleagues consider him "barbarian". But it also reflects the way in which the Roman army took people from across the various lands of the empire and offered them the chance to become citizens in exchange for their service. Ballista still prays to his northern god, speaks his native language when he can, but is a key part of a Roman army locked in struggles with Persia. The depiction of the conflict - and it's setting - is very vivid and the characters are also well-drawn, including the supporting cast. I look forward to finding and reading the next book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    S.J. Arnott

    "We will do what is ordered, and at every command we will be ready." The first of five books featuring Ballista, an Angle who has risen through the ranks of the Roman army to become a general. In this story, he's sent to east to defend a border city against the Persians. Most of the book revolves about the preparations for the siege, then culminates in the attack itself. The story is full of intrigue and excitement with Ballista simultaneously battling the enemy beyond the walls while watching his "We will do what is ordered, and at every command we will be ready." The first of five books featuring Ballista, an Angle who has risen through the ranks of the Roman army to become a general. In this story, he's sent to east to defend a border city against the Persians. Most of the book revolves about the preparations for the siege, then culminates in the attack itself. The story is full of intrigue and excitement with Ballista simultaneously battling the enemy beyond the walls while watching his back for the traitors and spies in his own ranks.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Speesh

    It's good, but you could argue that not an awful lot happens over a lot of pages. But, once I got over that, I really enjoyed the developing character of the main man, and began to care about his, and the other character's fate. It could certainly have done with more action, but I'm going to see the big picture with this one, and get searching for number two in the series. Where it does score, is in the depth of research and knowlege the author displays. He really does know his (Roman) onions, th It's good, but you could argue that not an awful lot happens over a lot of pages. But, once I got over that, I really enjoyed the developing character of the main man, and began to care about his, and the other character's fate. It could certainly have done with more action, but I'm going to see the big picture with this one, and get searching for number two in the series. Where it does score, is in the depth of research and knowlege the author displays. He really does know his (Roman) onions, that's clear, but he shows it in a subtle and convincing way. Enjoyed it and can recommend it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Raftery

    l did find it hard to into but i kept at hopping it would get better cos of this l plodded on and when are hero gets to the city he has been told to save it THEN the book starts to get good and by the end of the book you think not bad just get past the 1st third then its action all the way. i enjoyed it that much i got the next book

  27. 4 out of 5

    Gem

    Warrior of Rome: Fire in the East, was the very first book of Roman fiction that I picked up and I definitely was not disappointed. Harry brings you right into the world of Ballista and his entourage, and you experience the twists and turns and betrayals first hand. Ballista is a very strong character, and this most certainly is the main driving force behind my adoration of the books.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sean

    Not top-shelf historical fiction, but close. Nicely written, reasonably well plotted, and superbly well researched. If you're an armchair historian who is fond of Rome, the Hellenistic world, or Sassanid Persia, you'll find something to like. If you pay attention, there are plenty of Easter Eggs waiting for you. I'll be reading the second installment.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    This was just okay for me. I read a different roman empire book yesterday that I liked much better than this one. I liked the history contained in this, hence the 2 stars. For being historical fiction, it was quite heavy on the historical aspect. What I didn't appreciate was the way the story was told. It felt too contemporary for this particular era. It rubbed me the wrong way.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Adam Hunter

    Brilliant, just Brilliant. Yes 'know it alls' out there we know an Angle and a hostage would not have been allowed to elevate to such a high level of command and influence. But the point is the story and its telling are amazing and the scope of information given by the author is excellent to see and read about.

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