Book review: Fortress of Spears by Anthony Riches

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In AD 182 all that protects the Roman invaders from Britannia’s northern barbarian hordes is Hadrian’s Wall - and an army of brave and battle-hardened soldiers.

Amongst them is a young officer – a fearless fighter noted for his resilience and loyalty – but he harbours a terrible secret, one that can be traced back to the heart of Rome and which could spell death for himself and all those who protect him.

And with ruthless enemies closing in on both sides of the wall, the life of the legion’s legendary hero just got even more dangerous.

Action man and centurion Marcus Valerius Aquila is back for his third outing in Anthony Riches’ stirring Empire series which puts heart-pounding, blood-and-guts adventure into tales of Roman treachery and warfare.

An expert in all things military, Riches knows his history too and his classy stories set in Rome’s edge of empire badlands bring to graphic and authentic life all the hair-raising heat and horror of ferocious battles fought with sword, spear and arrow as well as the deadly dynamics of imperial politics.

In Fortress of Spears, Marcus – a fugitive from Rome where the cruel Emperor Commodus has slaughtered all his noble family as traitors – is hiding out with a cohort of 2nd Tungrian soldiers in northern Britannia under the name of Marcus Corvus.

The Roman legions have vanquished a rebel barbarian uprising, leaving conniving Calgus, king of the Selgovae people and self-styled Lord of the Northern Tribes, a prisoner and pawn of his former allies.

But the Romans’ new regional leader seeks greater glory and puts together a daring plan to capture the Dinpaladyr, a ‘fortress of spears’ snatched by Calgus from a rival tribe, and return it to one of their trusted native allies.

Meanwhile, Marcus, devastated by the brutal slaying of his best friend, fellow officer and saviour Tiberius Rufius by the ‘blue-nosed’

barbarians, launches a dizzying, death-defying battlefield rampage which takes him almost to breaking point.

Burning for revenge, he joins a select group of infantry heading beyond the wall to take the fort but as he travels north into enemy territory, two of the emperor’s assassins are also closing in from the south.

Fortress of Spears is another thrilling chapter in the life of Marcus Aquila...a feast of savage warfare, cynical betrayals, barrack room bravado and poisonous politics, all leavened with a sprinkling of Roman-style romance.

The perfect blend of history and adventure.

(Hodder & Stoughton, hardback, £12.99)