Saturday, July 29, 2017

Review: The Emperor's Knives, Empire VII by Anthony Riches

A historical resource article by Mary Harrsch © 2017

In Book 7 of Anthony Riches' Empire series of novels, the hero, Marcus Tribulus Corvus, formerly Marcus Valerius Aquila, finally gets the opportunity to return to Rome and take revenge on Praetorian Prefect Tigidius Perennis and his cadre of assassins who slaughtered Marcus' family to confiscate their wealth. But, the four men, referred to as "The Emperor's Knives," present quite a challenge to Marcus and his officer comrades, who have sworn to help him. One is a serving Praetorian officer.  Another is the leader of one of Rome's most vicious street gangs. The third is a powerful senator with a taste for salacious entertainment and the last is none other than Rome's reigning gladiatorial champion.

Closeup of the left side of Myrmillo-style bronze gladiator
helmet with bas-relief depicting scenes from the Trojan War
 found in Herculaneum 1st Century CE. Photographed by
Mary Harrsch © 2015
A senator whose son served with Marcus in Dacia has hired an informant to assist Marcus and his friends. But, the duplicitous informant, a ruthless former imperial grain officer Marcus encountered in Britannia,  has several employers with different agendas.  Although he seems to be providing accurate information, Marcus is certain he will ultimately lead them to a disastrous outcome. So Marcus recruits some of the Tungrians to become street-savvy spies themselves to ensure Marcus, Tribune Scaurus and Marcus' assorted barbarian companions  won't end up at the wrong end of Emperor Commodus' sword before their mission is completed.

The emperor Commodus, dressed as Hercules, admired
gladiators and even competed in "arranged" matches himself.
Photographed by Mary Harrsch at the Capitoline Museum in
Rome, Italy. © 2005
In the other six novels, we have seen Marcus use his formidable swordsmanship to get out of almost impossible situations. Now we have a chance to see Marcus pit his skills against some of the best gladiators in the Flavian amphitheater in his final act of revenge.

Riches' vibrant descriptions of combat that even include details of which foot is used to pivot or launch an attack result in the reader feeling totally involved in the action. His descriptions of ancient Rome's back alleys and less than savory street life are also quite evocative.  As is the case in his other books, Riches maintains suspense with a well organized and fast-paced narrative while reserving a few surprises for the revealing conclusion.

I was surprised, though, that one loose thread was not addressed. Marcus had learned in a previous novel that his younger brother had been sold into slavery. However, he apparently makes no effort to locate his brother or ascertain if he still lives. Maybe this issue will be addressed in a future book.

Once again I highly recommend this entire series!

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