The Caspian Gates by Harry Sidebottom

Rating 8.0/10
Earthquakes, blood-feuds, battles, treachery, love and loss... What is there not to like?

The Caspian Gates is the fourth book in the Warrior of Rome series by Dr Harry Sidebottom, a Fellow of St Benet's Hall and lecturer at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he specializes in ancient warfare and classical art.

AD262 - the Imperium is in turmoil after the struggle for the throne. Furthermore, Ephesus, Asia's metropolis, lies in ruins, shattered by a mighty earthquake. Its citizens live in fear as the mob overwhelms the city, baying for blood to avenge the gods who have punished them.

Yet an even greater threat to the Empire advances from the North. The barbaric Goth tribes sail towards Ephesus, determined to pillage the city. Only Ballista, Warrior of Rome, knows the ways of the barbarians, and only he can defeat them.

The Goths' appetite for brutality and destruction is limitless and before long Ballista is locked into a deadly blood feud, with an enemy that has sworn to destroy him - and the Imperium - at all costs.

The Warrior of Rome series has been a example of good, solid historical fiction, strong on characterisation and authenticity. The first two books were very good and although the third book was, in my opinion, a dip in form, the fourth sees a return to the strengths that have made Sidebottom's work so popular.

The book's overall theme is exile and we find Ballista - who is no longer flavour of the month in Rome - sent to the outer-edge of the Empire. Much of the book's narrative is concerned with his travels to this far-flung destination and of course things do not run smoothly as he encounters the warlike Goths, with whom he has a blood-feud. And once he finally arrives there is plenty more trouble in store…

Sidebottom has added a several new characters which help to keep things fresh and Ballista is of course accompanied by his close companions from the first three books. As ever with a book written by the good doctor it is well-written, showcases detailed research and is full of battle action. But it is the feeling of authenticity that once again lifts it above the level of the majority of Roman historical fiction.

What I have enjoyed about the Ballista character's development in this series is that he has shown increasing fallibility as the strain of constant battle and advancing of the years take their toll. Fans of the Warrior of Rome series will be pleased with the latest instalment: Earthquakes, blood-feuds, battles, treachery, love and loss... What is there not to like?

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