Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Review: "Avenger of Rome" by Douglas Jackson

A history resource article by  © 2015

As the third novel in Jackson's "Hero of Rome" series opens, we find Gaius Valerius Verrens, Hero of Rome, has not escaped the clutches of the depraved emperor Nero.  The praetorian prefect killed at the end of "Defender of Rome" has been replaced by an even more vicious creature named Tigellinus.

Tigellinus was a real historical personality known for his cruelty and for gaining imperial favor by arranging the emperor's notorious debaucheries. To a man like Tigellinus, a courageous warrior like Gaius Valerius Verrens posed a threat to Tigellinus' ambitious plans to assume more and more of the emperor's power.  So, threatening Valerius' physically fragile sister, Tigellinus gets Valerius to agree to a mission to travel to Antioch and report on the loyalty of Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, Rome's most accomplished general and even more of a potential threat to Nero's power base than Valerius.

The journey, further complicated by the presence of Corbulo's daughter, Domitia, is a suspense-filled endeavor that requires Valerius to battle Illyrian pirates and an unforgiving desert.

When he finally reaches Antioch, he finds a wary Corbulo surrounded by outwardly hostile officers that do not trust him and suspect he has been sent by Nero to assassinate their beloved commander.

Little by little Valerius redeems himself in their eyes and when Corbulo gathers his legions to repulse a Parthian incursion lead by the "king of kings", Vologases I, Valerius is appointed to lead auxiliary cavalry on a dangerous "behind the lines" mission that will mean ultimate Roman victory or death to the last man of Corbulo's combined army.

Coin of Vologaces I.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Once again Jackson has crafted a thrilling narrative that compels the reader to attack each chapter in anticipation as Verrens survives one nearly fatal encounter after the next.  His characters, from the wise but fiercely disciplined Corbulo to the courageous but fatally flawed young tribune, Tiberius, vibrantly bring the eastern Roman Empire, with its multicultural challenges, to life, with Valerius and his trusted companion and former gladiator, Serpentius, at the forefront of the action.

Furthermore, Jackson demonstrates his mastery of both Roman and Parthian battle tactics as he orchestrates, what would have been, if it had actually occurred, one of the greatest Roman victories ever achieved against overwhelming odds.

Parthian infantryman.  Image courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons.

In history, Corbulo, with his command of four legions (III Gallica, V Macedonica, VI Ferrata, and the newly-arrived XV Apollinaris) invaded Armenia in 63 CE to defend the reigning client king of Armenia.  It is thought that Vologases and his brother Tiridates, who claimed to be the rightful heir to the throne of Armenia, thought that a war could not be won over such a force.  Corbulo, too, was convinced that fighting such a war would have been arduous in the moutainous country of the region. So, before the armies came to blows, a treaty was negotiated.  The Parthians agreed to let the Roman emperor appoint the king of Armenia and Tiridates laid down his crown and traveled to Rome where Nero replaced it upon his brow with Rome's blessing.

Jackson imagines how the avoided war would have unfolded and compresses the timeline by three years to combine Corbulo's victory with his ultimate historically documented fate.

Obviously, I highly recommend "Avenger of Rome" and am anxious to begin the next installment in the series, "Sword of Rome".

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