The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
Set in Britain during the early fourth century AD, the story takes place against the backdrop of a Pictish invasion and the subsequent events that lead to the accession of the emperor Constantine.
The protagonist, a centurion decorated for valour while fighting the Persians, finds himself marooned in the backwater at the end of the world that is Roman Britain and it seems like his life has become an endless parade-ground battle to turn raw local recruits into disciplined Roman soldiers.
However, when conspiracy among the imperial elite in Gaul combines with Pictish ambition north of Hadrian's Wall, he discovers that the world is far less simple and the shores of Britain far more perilous than he had ever imagined.
This is first and foremost a page-turner, tense, gritty and action-packed. I read it from cover to cover in three days. What it is not however, is a tremendously subtle study in character. As in a lot of toga-lit, the male characters are forceful rather than subtle, dogged rather than imaginative, and entirely preoccupied with matters of honour and loyalty; the female characters are thin on the ground and invariably drawn without a great deal of subtlety. They are wilful, capricious and generally difficult to fathom.
Nevertheless it's a very enjoyable read and a window on an intriguing historical period that has not been sufficiently explored in fiction.